There are probably a few defendants at the Metropolitan Detention Center wishing they were Division I athletes or coaches right about now.
Because after a six-month review of the fatal shooting outside a dormitory on the University of New Mexico’s campus last fall that left 19-year-old UNM student Brandon Travis dead, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office announced this week no charges will be filed against any current or former New Mexico State University basketball player, coach or administrator.
• For former NMSU player Mike Peake, who illegally brought a handgun onto the UNM campus in the early morning hours of Nov. 19.
• For some of Peake’s teammates, who appeared to remove the Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistol after the 3 a.m. shootout. After being shot in the leg, Peake called his teammates, who rushed to the scene and picked up his handgun and computer tablet.
• For any coaches, who certainly were not forthcoming or helpful and did not turn over the gun and tablet until more than 12 hours after the shooting. A State Police officer caught up with the team bus, which left Albuquerque while investigators were still piecing together details of the shooting, at a rest stop halfway back to Las Cruces. At the rest stop, officers were given the tablet and told NMSU assistant coach Dominique Taylor had the handgun back at the Albuquerque hotel where the team had been staying. State Police were so dubious by that point they had Taylor text a photo of the gun to make sure it really was back in Albuquerque. Taylor finally handed it over around 3:45 p.m. Earlier, Taylor told police he wasn’t sure in whose room the gun was found.
• For anyone involved in Peake’s cellphone location. His cellphone mysteriously disappeared until late Nov. 19, when it turned up at the Las Cruces home of an NMSU Athletics Department administrator. No one from NMSU has explained that.
• For any of the coaches who ignored multiple calls from police for about six hours the morning and afternoon of Nov. 19.
• For whoever — coaches or administrators — decided the team would skedaddle out of town earlier than planned though the coaches knew a State Police investigation was underway and their cooperation was crucial.
“While their lack of cooperation after the shooting certainly did not help to further the investigation, this behavior does not appear to meet the legal standard of criminal obstruction or tampering with evidence,” said a spokeswoman for Second Judicial District Attorney Sam Bregman. “Should any new information surface that could impact this decision, we may reconsider.”
Prosecutors determined Peake acted in self-defense and had been lured to campus by a female student and jumped by three male students in retaliation for a fight he had been involved in at a Lobo-Aggie football game in Las Cruces.
Fine. But why excuse him for bringing a handgun onto a college campus?
Just weeks ago, Bregman held a news conference to announce a zero-tolerance policy for guns being brought onto school campuses. The public deserves a clearer explanation of the DA’s reason for determining there was no basis for charges in this high-profile case.
Otherwise, the lack of charges raises concerns about whether there are different thresholds for charging elite-level college basketball players, coaches and/or administrators. If this had been another of Albuquerque’s many fatal shootings, and did not involve NMSU athletics, would it have met “the legal standard of criminal obstruction or tampering with evidence?”
Rather than send a clear message that taking guns on a college campus and interfering with evidence is wrong, and those who dare to do so will be prosecuted, Bregman has lowered the bar for a select few in a city struggling mightily with gun crimes.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.