So much for the evidence.
UNM head football coach Mike Locksley and the local bar where he allegedly had a verbal altercation with a college newspaper reporter say they have destroyed the video that supposedly exonerated the coach.
How, when and why?
Those are a few of the questions being asked of the University of New Mexico and Locksley, who is again at the center of an off-the-field controversy heating up local air waves.
An open government advocate and a member of UNM’s board of regents both expressed concern the university had not kept the copy of the video that Locksley obtained from the bar.
The surveillance video was of Locksley and Daily Lobo sports editor Ryan Tomari and a friend of Tomari’s at Uptown Sports Bar and Grill during an incident on July 31.
Tomari on Friday told the Journal he felt “intimidated” when Locksley, who was accompanied by fellow coaches, confronted Tomari at the bar about a column Tomari had written that week.
Locksley said in a radio interview Friday there was no incident or confrontation.
Tomari had a different account.
“I was intimidated. I was very afraid afterwards,” Tomari told the Journal on Friday. “We did make peace at the end, but I just had to collect my thoughts the next day. And yes, I did keep it to myself. I kind of wanted it to die.”
Also on Friday, the Daily Lobo newspaper reported that UNM assistant sports information director Chris Deal had apologized to Tomari on behalf of Locksley for the incident.
Frank Mercogliano, Deal’s boss, told the Journal: “Chris apologized for how Ryan felt after (Deal talked) with coach Locksley. He didn’t apologize for coach Locksley.”
The Journal and Daily Lobo both published stories about the incident and video on Friday, igniting reaction from UNM, fans and others.
The media storm actually started on Thursday night, when KOB-TV reported that the school was trying to do “damage control” for a story that was slated for Friday’s Journal.
On Friday, after the Journal story was published, local radio talk shows were filled with callers, most angry with Locksley and UNM’s handling of the incident. Locksley, himself, was a guest on KNML and blasted the Journal’s coverage, saying “what we have going on right now is some irresponsible journalism. … There was no incident. There was no altercation.”
The majority of radio callers didn’t take the coach’s side.
“What a lot of people were focusing on,” KKOB-AM morning radio talk show host Bob Clark said in an interview, “was after everything that happened last year, coach Locksley still found himself in a situation where something like this could come up … approaching a reporter at a bar. The other thing is, he supposedly took anger management classes last year.
“But the bigger part of the story we discussed was the mistakes UNM continues to make over and over and over again as a publicly funded, state-funded institution – this bunker mentality that they continue to put up from a PR perspective with everything that coach Locksley has been involved with.”
The Journal also received a number of Sports Speak UP! letters, all of them criticizing the school and/or coach.
Locksley declined to comment for this story.
Mercogliano said Friday that Locksley “disposed” of the copy of the video the same day he showed it to Journal football beat writer Greg Archuleta – on Aug. 26.
UNM contacted Archuleta and offered to show him the surveillance tape after Archuleta began asking questions about the incident with Tomari. Locksley and Deal showed Archuleta the video in Locksley’s office, with Locksley giving Archuleta his version of what was said during the July 31 incident.
Archuleta said he didn’t see anything on the video that showed a confrontation, but said it had no sound so he could not hear what was said.
Mercogliano said Friday the school considered it a closed issue “after (Archuleta) had watched it. He (Archuleta) says, ‘there’s nothing to suggest that it was heated.’ ”
Despite at least three other media requests to the school, including one from the Journal, for the video after Archuleta saw it, no other reporter has been allowed to view it. Other reporters became aware of the video because the topic came up during a media dinner that night – Aug. 26 – at Locksley’s home.
The Journal requested a copy so that a reporter could view it with Tomari and hear his version of what happened.
On Friday, both Mercogliano and Athletic Director Paul Krebs disputed Friday’s Journal story that said UNM had turned the video over to the bar; both said nobody at UNM ever said that.
The reporting was based on an interview with Mercogliano on Wednesday. The Journal asked him when UNM had returned the video to the bar, and Mercogliano said he didn’t know, but, “I would assume right away.”
In an earlier statement, UNM said it no longer had the video and encouraged the media to go to the bar for it.
However, the manager of Uptown Sports Bar and Grill said Friday the bar had deleted/destroyed its copy.
So why, if UNM hasn’t had the video since Aug. 26, did Mercogliano tell various media outlets seeking the video to make a formal request for it under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
“There needs to be a paper trail,” Mercogliano said Friday. “I’m just trying to be thorough. … Even though we don’t have the video, that request should be in writing so we know it’s been filed.”
The disappearing tape raised more than eyebrows.
“This seems like a classic example of the ‘cover-up’ being worse than the crime,” says Sarah Welsh, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. “Any record that surfaces briefly and then goes missing is bound to pique everyone’s curiosity and suspicions.
“… Since university officials received and were holding this tape, and they believed that it related to Mr. Locksley’s employment by the public, I would argue that it was and is a public record. Therefore, the university’s first obligation is to hold onto it. … In extreme situations, there’s a law making it a fourth-degree felony to knowingly destroy or remove any public record.”
Gil Gurulé, who was with Tomari at the bar, said he had recorded 17 minutes of the incident on his cell phone, but deleted it after being harassed by numerous media calls.
UNM Regent Jack Fortner criticized Gurulé for deleting the video, but said UNM and Locksley “can’t destroy public record.”
On Friday, Tomari, speaking to the Journal, said he and friend Gurulé were “at Uptown watching baseball, drinking a few beers” when Locksley’s group came in.
During a Friday morning radio interview on KNML, Locksley said he had 16 coaches with him that night.
Tomari said that after about a minute, “(Locksley) started yelling at me from across the room, asking me why his program was in shambles and telling me I was awful at a video game.”
Tomari had written a column a few days earlier in which he played a computerized football game as UNM against Oregon, and lost 72-3. Tomari wrote the UNM program was “in shambles.”
The Lobos lost to Oregon 72-0 in a real game five weeks later.
“(Gurulé) defended me, and (Locksley) came over …,” Tomari said. “I used profanity. Not much, but I did use it, my (friend Gurulé) and (Locksley) definitely used profanity. For about 25 minutes of the, I’m going to use the word ‘confrontation,’ it was pretty heated and a bit intense.”
The student reporter also said “maybe (Locksley) thought he was a football coach on a football field yelling at one of his players.”
Besides the incident itself, questions are being raised – again – about UNM’s handling of a Locksley controversy.
Last year, the coach was suspended for one game for an alleged physical altercation with assistant coach J.B. Gerald and the school also had to settle out of court after Locksley was accused of sexual harassment for making comments that an older woman working in the football office wasn’t pretty enough.
He denied the allegations and a settlement was reached with the woman, but Locksley was suspended over the Gerald incident and the university is facing a lawsuit. He also was ordered to take a conflict resolution class.