by Irvin Muchnick
In August 2018, Braeden Bradforth’s mother was told by a Garden City Community College official of the existence of campus surveillance video that showed his fatal collapse from exertional heat stroke after a brutal conditioning session in the Kansas heat.
This information from the mom, Joanne Atkins-Ingram, supplements today’s report by Stephen Adelson of the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey that the college has acknowledged destroying the video routinely captured on August 1, 2018, by surveillance cameras in place for campus safety. See “Neptune football player’s death: Kansas college deleted security video,” https://www.app.com/story/sports/2019/03/15/nj-football-players-death-kansas-college-deleted-security-video/3163768002/.
News of the conversation last year between Atkins-Ingram and Christine Dillingham, the Garden City official whose title is Office Manager of Residential Life, fuels suspicions of a cover-up in the circumstances of the 19-year-old Bradforth’s death following the first day of practice for the Broncbusters football team under then head coach Jeff Sims — now in the same position at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.
Already known is that, in the immediate aftermath of the death, Sims promoted a false narrative that Bradforth died from a heart attack caused by a blood clot. The Finney County coroner’s autopsy would unambiguously cite exertional heat stroke (EHS) as the cause of death, and make no mention of a pulmonary embolism. And EHS is consistent with everything known about Bradforth’s struggles during the team’s rapid-repeat sprint drills (accompanied by the taunting of him by Coach Sims); the withholding of water from players; and the young man’s disoriented departure ahead of a team meeting, with no attention given to his condition by the coaches or training staff. When other players discovered the absent Bradforth slumped and unresponsive outside a campus building a good distance from the team meeting site, the first move of coaches and trainers was not to call 911 but to have him doused with a water hose, according to the paramedics’ report.
The community college’s irregular handling and destruction of video evidence of a campus death provides a possible road map to the existing and promised future intervention of New Jersey politicians.
New Jersey State Senator Vin Gopal already has requested an investigation by the Kansas attorney general, Derek Schmidt, who rebuffed the idea. But demands for an independent investigation will surely persist and multiply.
Atkins-Ingram and her attorney Jill Greene have also met with Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey’s 4th District, who vowed publicly to “do everything I can to help uncover the truth about Braeden Bradforth’s case.”
Yesterday Atkins-Ingram held a well-attended town hall meeting in New Jersey in which community members, supporters, and friends discussed Braeden Bradforth’s death — the 36th in official college football conditioning sessions this century — and the schools’ pattern of cover-ups of them. One of the speakers at the town hall, by phone from his office in California, was Ramogi Huma, the former UCLA football player who is the founder and president of the College Athletes Players Association.
Atkins-Ingram told Concussion Inc. that she spoke with Dillingham, the college official, in mid- or late August. “I know it was after August 13, because that was the day of Braeden’s memorial service,” Atkins-Ingram said.
John Green, then the Garden City athletic director, had attended the funeral, but in traveling from Kansas he had not brought back all of Braeden’s belongings. The purpose of Atkins-Ingram’s contact with Dillingham was to arrange for the shipment of these items.
In the course of this conversation, Atkins-Ingram said, Dillingham mentioned the video. Dillingham’s reference was more than a passing confirmation of the fact that Garden City Community College, in the standard security practice today, maintains the technology of campus surveillance video. What the housing executive specifically added, in Atkins-Ingram’s account, is that the video showed Braeden had been stricken outside a campus building. At that early point in her fact-gathering, the mother still was not clear on whether he had collapsed outside or, perhaps, inside his dormitory room.
Not clear in this account is whether Dillingham based her statements to Atkins-Ingram on her own viewing of the video or on what she was told about it by others. Dillingham did not respond to Concussion Inc.’s email yesterday requesting comment. (Ashley Salazar, media spokesperson for college president Ryan Ruda, has never responded to our queries.)
In late August, Atkins-Ingram retained attorney Greene. On August 31, 30 days after Braeden’s death, Greene sent what is known as a “spoliation letter” to a group of college officials, alerting them to the need to preserve evidence. One of the recipients of the letter, which was sent by both email and postal mail, was football coach Sims, who emailed back the same day, “Absolutely I will help in any way.”
Subsequently, Sims fell silent, and the college’s lawyer, Randall Grissell, has given the Bradforth family kaleidoscopic explanations of the existence or non-existence of video evidence. One of Grissell’s explanations, without addressing whether video existed, was the abstract argument that such footage could not be released under the provisions of the Federal Educational Records Privacy Act (FERPA). However, the law and the stated policy of the U.S. Department of Education include clarifications that FERPA does not apply to records of deceased persons or to campus police investigations.
More recently, Grissell informed the family that campus surveillance video is kept for only 14 days, so that anything captured on August 1, 2018, would be out of the system on August 15.
Several campus security law and technology experts with whom I spoke confirmed that because of hard-drive limitations, institutions often dub over surveillance video after 14 days. But these experts expressed extreme suspicion of a decision to erase coverage of an emergency medical scene that resulted in death — regardless of whether a third party had expressed interest in it within two weeks or submitted a spoliation warning. For this story, I am not naming these experts because they made their comments based only on my summary, and not on their direct review of all the facts and evidence.
One of the experts summed up his view this way: “FERPA is a cop-out. Sure, you can’t just release video, but that doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility of preserving it. As for the whole picture, it seems to me that the college is up to their neck in it, and have little in the way of excuses.”
DEATH OF BRAEDEN BRADFORTH — CHRONOLOGICAL HEADLINE LINKS