“John, regarding the documents I gave you yesterday, please don’t share the papers … l put them together for you (and Ann if needed) only. If others need the information, I am happy to give a verbal briefing, but not documents. The case is not available for a PRA [Public Records Act] request and I’d like to keep it that way.”
— email from Margo Bennett, Berkeley campus police chief, to John Wilton, vice chancellor for finance and administration, March 20, 2014
by Irvin Muchnick
Documents belatedly released in Concussion Inc.’s California Public Records Act lawsuit for additional internal files in the 2014 football conditioning death of Ted Agu in Berkeley already establish that the football team physician, Dr. Casey Batten, was very much interested in covering up the circumstances of the fatal incident. I’ve written that the only remaining doubt is whether Batten was acting on his own initiative or in coordination with university officials.
A similar question hangs in the air with respect to the campus police department under Chief Margo Bennett. As we ask Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Brand to order immediate briefing of the question of production of 141 pages of secret campus police reports in the aftermath of the Agu death, it is worth reviewing what is already known about the dubious role of the campus cops. (A case management conference is scheduled for Thursday morning at the courthouse in Hayward.)
On November 1, 2013, student-athlete J.D. Hinnant beat Golden Bears teammate Fabiano Hale into unconsciousness and the Alta Bates Hospital emergency room, the day after Hale skipped a conditioning session. Damon Harrington, the strength and conditioning coach under then head coach Sonny Dykes, had imposed extra sets of drills on those present at the session Hale missed, as punishment for the squad’s imperfect attendance. And according to later testimony by a whistleblower, Harrington told the group that it was their collective responsibility to hold everyone accountable “by any means necessary.” The whistleblower said Harrington, for emphasis, punctuated his words with the simulation of a punch.
The narrative in the incident report of the Hinnant assault on Hale, by campus police officer Charissa Spears, includes the following:
“I spoke to Running Back Coach [Pierre[ INGMAN who was also at Alta Bates. He told me all the football players were in the athlete’s lounge while the coaching staff was in a meeting. He did not know what happened. He said the staff was going to look into the matter once [REDACTED] began to recover his memory. He said some of the team was being housed in the Hilton Garden Inn in Berkeley that night. He was concerned about the players being distracted by an investigation the night before a game.” (emphasis in italics)
The interest in eliminating “distraction” extended so far as to suit up Hinnant for the Arizona game the next day at Memorial Stadium.
On November 9, Lieutenant Marc DeCoulode of the Berkeley campus police told the San Francisco Chronicle that there was no evidence that head coach Dykes “had any knowledge of this.” But what exactly is “this”? Is it the Hinnant attack on Hale? Is it the background of the attack? Is it the decision to suit Hinnant for a game while a criminal investigation of the incident was commencing?
Hinnant got off with campus discipline, community service, and demonstrable remorse; criminal charges were “deferred,” and at the expiration of the statute of limitations, faded away.
In April 2014, Alameda County assistant district attorney Paul Hora told me, “I have no evidence of a ‘code red’ here.” Hora was using a metaphor, which I had suggested to him, from the movie A Few Good Men, about the court-martial of two Marines in the murder of a third.
What neither Hora nor I knew at the time was that one month earlier — in March 2014, also a month after Ted Agu’s death, which also occurred on the watch of conditioning coach Harrington — a whistleblower, backup quarterback Joey Mahalic, had spoken with university administrators and ultimately the campus police, and provided just such evidence of a code red. In 2016, Concussion Inc. acquired and published a version of Mahalic’s campus police interview transcript; some version of this account is likely one of the 16 chapters of the secret 141 pages of campus police records I’m seeking in my public information litigation against the UC Regents.
And when I confronted the district attorney’s office as to whether it had been forwarded the Mahalic campus police interview at the time, the answer was no. This was during the pendency of Hinnant’s “deferred charges” in the attack on Hale.
In the summer of 2016, criticism mounted of the preposterous one-day “independent review” of the football strength and conditioning program that had been rushed into whitewash in the wake of Agu’s death. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks responded by promising to commission a second and better “independent review.”
As to Damon Harrington, here’s what the chief executive of the world’s greatest public university said: “Because some people asked whether Coach Harrington may have had some responsibility for the alleged assault, UCPD specifically investigated this question, and concluded at that time Harrington had done nothing wrong.”
Shortly thereafter, Chancellor Dirks resigned in disgrace under the weight of multiple scandals. Today, one of them, the Ted Agu football death cover-up, remains mostly buried.
One question that the 141 pages of campus police materials in our Public Records Act case might help answer can be articulated this way: Is the UC Berkeley Police Department in the business of student and public safety? Or is just the private risk-mitigation arm of the Cal administration?
Tuesday at Concussion Inc.: The table of contents of the secret 141-page campus police report “binder.”
Complete headline links to our Ted Agu series: https://concussioninc.net/?p=10877