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Racist comments about the Utah women’s hoop team will not lead to charges
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Racist comments about the Utah women’s hoop team will not lead to charges

An 18-year-old man shouted racial slurs at members of the Utah women’s basketball team this spring but will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, wrote in a decision Friday.

The city’s deputy chief attorney, Ryan Hunter, wrote in the charging decision that he declined to prosecute the 18-year-old because his statement did not meet the legal definition of malicious harassment or hate speech, and is therefore protected under the First Amendment. .

A police investigation revealed that the 18-year-old shouted the N-word at Utah players, some of whom were black, as they walked to dinner the night before their first NCAA tournament game in March.

“Our office shares in the outrage sparked by the man’s abhorrent racist and misogynistic statement, and we unequivocally condemn that statement and the use of racial slurs in this case, or in any other circumstance,” Hunter wrote. “Under current law, however, this cannot form the basis for criminal prosecution in this case.”

A spokesperson for Utah athletics said the department had no comment on the decision.

Utah coach Lynne Roberts revealed for the first time that her program had experienced “several instances of some type of racial hate crime against our program” in late March following her team’s loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Utes stayed in Coeur d’Alene ahead of their NCAA tournament games in Spokane, Washington, but ultimately changed hotels after the incident, which was reported to police.

According to the charging decision, a Utah booster first told police that the drivers of two pickup trucks revved their engines and drove past Utah players while on their way to dinner on March 21, then returned and N-word shouted at the players.

A subsequent police investigation failed to confirm the alleged speeding, although surveillance video did capture a passenger car driving past the Utah group while someone was heard shouting the N-word as part of a lewd comment about anal sex.

Police identified the four people riding in the car, according to the charging decision, and the 18-year-old man initially confirmed he had used the N-word as part of the lewd comment. The man, a student at nearby Post Falls High School, later retracted part of his earlier statement, saying he shouted the N-word while another passenger made the obscene statement, according to the charging decision.

Hunter, the prosecutor, wrote that the 18-year-old’s statement did not meet the threshold for malicious harassment because he did not directly threaten to hurt any of the players or damage their property. It also did not meet the necessary conditions for breach of the peace or disorderly conduct, he wrote, because these charges rest on the nature of the statement rather than what was said.

He added that the man’s use of the N-word is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“I cannot find probable cause that (the 18-year-old man’s) conduct — yelling from a moving vehicle at a group of people — constituted either disturbing the peace under state law or disorderly conduct under the city’s municipal code .” Hunter wrote. “What has instead been clear from the very beginning of this incident is that it was not when, where or how (he) made the grotesque racist statement that sparked the righteous indignation in this case; it was the grotesque racist statement itself.”

Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on social media @Tom_Schad.