The Tallahassee and Florida State University police didn't obstruct only the Jameis Winston investigation, a New York Times investigation has found. In a meaty story published yesterday, the Times details a pattern of half-hearted investigations by police into incidents involving FSU football players, as well as the active involvement in these cases by the FSU athletic department. Coming only hours after a damning Fox Sports report of the Tallahassee and Florida State police investigations of Winston, the Times story shows this is nothing new for the police.
The Times detail nine cases over the past two years where FSU football players have been shown favorable treatment by the police. The most well-known is the alleged rape of a then-FSU freshman by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, that went uninvestigated by police for months. It's the most serious of the alleged incidents, but it is far from the only one.
In November of 2012, there were at least three fracases involving FSU players and high-powered BB and pellet guns. In one, a red SUV cruised up a street near the FSU campus and essentially performed a BB gun drive-by. Bystanders were nailed by the projectiles, and frantically attempted to dive out of the way. The police eventually pulled over the SUV, and found it contained three FSU football players, as well as a hidden BB gun. What happened next would be repeated time after time in incidents involving FSU football players.
[One of the shooting victims] identified the car but could not say which of the players had been firing the gun. The players denied shooting at anyone. The officer gave Mr. Bracy, the driver, a traffic ticket, and then "the BB gun was returned to Mr. Bracy," according to the report. No charges were filed. The police spokesman, Officer Northway, said that without anyone to identify a suspect, "there was no ability to move ahead."
Sixteen months later—after a string of BB gun incidents, including one where Winston was forced to the ground and handcuffed by police—a police helicopter was called in after a shootout in a Tallahassee apartment complex parking lot. After seeing the extensive damage, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing security camera footage of the clash, police believed it involved real guns.
"Whatever they were using, these weren't toys you get at Walmart, they had some power behind them," said Cameron Manning, whose apartment overlooks the scene. "It looked like a drug deal gone bad."
The lead detective on the case soon discovered that the shootout took place among three FSU football players and a fourth man, and that they had all used BB guns. According to a report the detective later wrote, he described his investigation to the state attorneys office. When he mentioned that it involved football players, he "'was instructed that the issue would have to be 'round-tabled' with the division chiefs'." The round-table decided that the case merited the lesser of two potential charges, and let it drop for over two months. The Tallahassee police began interviewing players only after the New York Times first inquired about the incident with police.
Besides numerous other incidents—including the alleged Winston rape, a domestic violence episode, and grand theft—where police were at best indifferent to and at worst actively compromised investigations of law-breaking by FSU football players, the Times report explains the powerful economic incentives at work.
According to Leon County officials, for each FSU football home game the local economy gains between $1.5 and $10 million in economic activity, depending upon the quality of the Seminoles and their opposition. Dozens of police officers, including some conducting active investigations of FSU players, have second jobs working security and directing traffic on game days. The officers earn up to $45 an hour to supplement their regular paycheck.
The Florida State athletic department prioritizing the welfare of football-playing suspects over victims, many of whom are fellow FSU students, shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed college athletics for the past few decades. Like the police departments, and city and county officials, the athletic department has a powerful reason to ignore very serious crimes committed by football players.
The Times details that the main fundraising arm of FSU's athletic department has a mind-blowing $264 million in assets, almost half as much as Florida State University's entire $548 million endowment. The bulk of head coach Jimbo Fisher's $3.5 million annual salary is paid by that nonprofit fundraising arm, and his contract includes up to $1.45 million in incentives. Only $75,000 of those are related to the academic achievement by his players; the other $1.375 million have to do with winning football games.
This is far from the last that we will hear about Florida State football players's off the field transgressions. Three players were charged last week with with criminal mischief as a result of one of the BB gun affairs, and ESPN is reporting that Winston will face a University disciplinary hearing, where he will be confronted with four violations of the student conduct code. The school is also under federal investigation for how it handled the Winston rape case.
Photo via Phil Sears/AP