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Three New Mexico State Aggies basketball players seen in video footage interacting with teammate Mike Peake moments after he was involved in the Nov. 19 fatal shooting on the University of New Mexico campus have been suspended for one game.
An NMSU spokesman confirmed Wednesday evening, not long before the Aggies were to play the Santa Clara Broncos in California, that Issa Muhammad, Marchelus “Chi Chi” Avery and Anthony Roy would be held out of the game. Peake has been suspended indefinitely from the team.
“All three are suspended for one game,” said NMSU Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications Justin Bannister.
Meanwhile, recently released New Mexico State Police body cam video of initial interviews with Aggies first-year coach Greg Heiar the morning of the shooting show him saying he would cooperate with the investigation, and expressing concern about the safety of his players and family if the game against the UNM Lobos scheduled for later that day in the Pit was not canceled, as it was later in the day.
“People say the New Mexico State basketball player shot the (UNM) student, that’s not going to go over well in front of 15,000 people. You know what I mean?” Heiar said. “This is about the safety of everybody. That’s where I’m at.”
While there have been questions for the past two-and-a-half weeks about whether the players would be disciplined, Wednesday’s news comes one day after NMSU announced it would hire a third-party firm to investigate the situation. It also was two days after reports from the Journal and KOAT-TV late Monday identified the players as having been at the scene of the shooting and in a car that took the gun from the scene.
“This has been a very dynamic and fast-moving situation ever since the events occurred on Nov. 19,” Bannister said when asked about the timing of the decision to suspend the three players.
Muhammad and Avery were expected to be on the team bench in street clothes in Santa Clara, but Roy did not make the trip with the team for an undisclosed “personal reason,” Bannister said. Roy was still considered to be serving the same suspension.
“This was a decision that was made by NMSU’s administration after looking at the information available. A third-party investigator will still start its investigation in short order, but this was something the administration felt had to be done today,” Bannister said.
Police records indicate Peake, 21, was on the UNM campus to meet a 17-year-old female UNM student around 3 a.m. the morning of the UNM/NMSU rivalry game.
Brandon Travis, a 19-year-old UNM student, and two others knew Peake was coming, police say, and planned to attack him after Travis had been beat up by Peake and others at the Oct. 15 UNM/NMSU football game in Las Cruces.
Video released by State Police shows three individuals approach Peake from behind, while one – Travis – pulls out a gun. One of the three hits Peake in the leg with a bat. Peake is shot in the leg, pulls out a gun he was carrying, and shoots and kills Travis.
Video shows Peake hopping on one leg, meeting up with his teammates who pull up in a yellow Camaro, and placing the gun and a computer tablet in the trunk before the car is driven off.
Later in the day, after several hours and interviews, police recovered the gun Peake used from assistant coach Dominique Taylor, who called police to tell them he had it at the hotel where the team had been staying. No reports or interviews have indicated clearly when Taylor learned the gun was in one of the player’s rooms. There is no indication that any of the three players seen in the Camaro have spoken to police.
Peake was hospitalized in Albuquerque until Monday. Peake’s tablet, which he used to send messages to people that morning, was recovered on the team bus as it was traveling back to Las Cruces. The bus pulled over at a rest stop south of Socorro to hand it over to officers.
Peake’s cellphone was recovered the next day at the home of an NMSU Athletics Department administrator; it has not been disclosed how it got there.
Nobody associated with NMSU has been charged with a crime.
State Police reports do indicate that several calls officers made to Heiar and Taylor on the morning of the shooting went unanswered.
Canceling the game
While select portions of the initial interview exchange between Heiar and a New Mexico State Police detective had been referenced in the written police documents obtained by media in recent days, video from the officer’s body camera showing the entire interview have Heiar clearly stating he did not want to play the game later that night.
“(UNM Coach Richard) Pitino and I just talked,” Heiar says in the interview, which began at 9:47 a.m. Nov. 19, before Heiar met with players at their scheduled 10:30 a.m. team meeting. “We’re about the student athletes. And I’m worried about my wife and daughter, just, you know, being at the game. …
The game, which was expected to be a near sellout in the 15,411-seat arena, was initially postponed. Three days later, UNM announced the game in the Pit would not be rescheduled and the Dec. 3 game in Las Cruces also would not be played this season.
Heiar went on to say in the interview, “Mike’s going to have a long road ahead of him, no matter. He may never play basketball a second again for me, ever again. I mean, that’s just the reality. So, I need to protect the rest of my team and the rest of our people while you guys are doing the investigation.”
Three days after the shooting, NMSU posted to its website answers to numerous questions it had been receiving from media.
One question the Journal asked in an email on Nov. 19 – the day of the shooting – was whether other players were out of the team hotel at the time of the shooting.
NMSU’s answer read:
“Yes. We have become aware of other student athletes who have violated NMSU team curfew rules. Those student athletes were not part of this incident.”
Asked this week if the school stood by that answer, Bannister wrote in an email to the Journal: “I would say that statement should have been more clearly written and then should have either been taken down or rewritten as additional information was learned. The ‘was not part of this incident’ was intended to reference Mike Peake sneaking out of his room to meet a girl, and then encountering the three men with a bat and gun.
“The other athletes were not part of that incident. Now, as it has been widely reported, those athletes appear to have shown up later and interacted with Mike.”
Bannister said there was discussion at the university about whether to take that Q&A page down as information changed, but they didn’t want to have removing information called into question.