Police are investigating a possible motive in an attempted armed robbery allegedly planned and carried out by five Cal Poly football players at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house near campus early Sunday morning.
This is the second time in less than a year that the Cal Poly football team has been linked to a gun-related crime.
San Luis Obispo Police Department detectives spent Monday interviewing possible witnesses to the incident. While a motive was still not known Monday evening, at least one witness mentioned a possible relation to the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax, which has a high potential for abuse, according to police Chief Steve Gesell.
Witnesses at the scene also claim one of the suspects demanded cash.
“The common theme so far is drugs and/or money,” Gesell said.
Fraternity members dispute that any illegal drug activity took place at the residence.
San Luis Obispo police received a report about 2:30 a.m. Sunday of a robbery in progress at the fraternity house at 244 California Blvd.
The first officer on the scene allegedly saw Cameron Marcel Akins, 19, of Monrovia, confronting a victim outside the house. The officer drew his gun and demanded the teen comply, according to a news release.
When Akins allegedly attempted to flee, fraternity member Forrest Baker knocked Akins’ handgun from his grip and the two tumbled down a stairway.
The officer holstered his gun and tried to subdue Akins, who violently resisted, police said, requiring more officers and some of the fraternity members to step in and help.
Akins allegedly bit one of the officers during the struggle, but no one was seriously injured. The suspect’s handgun was later recovered.
Responding officers then arrested Cortland Josiah Fort, 20, of Fontana, who was attempting to leave the scene in a vehicle.
Further investigation led officers to arrest Dominique Alize Love, 19, of Poway; Jake Anthony Brito, 18, of Cypress; and Kristaan Sterling Ivory, 20, of Los Angeles at an undisclosed location on the Cal Poly campus for their alleged involvement.
Gesell noted the incident’s “disturbing” similarity to a November 2013 shooting of a former Cal Poly football player in what was later determined to be a drug deal gone wrong involving Xanax.
In that incident, two suspects entered a home on the 400 block of Buena Vista Avenue, which is in the same area south of campus as Sunday’s attempted robbery, allegedly to complete a drug transaction. An altercation ensued and Geoffrey Hyde, then 22, was shot in the back before the assailants fled.
Hyde survived the shooting and later told investigators the suspects were at the home for prescription pills. Police allegedly found numerous pills packaged for sale inside Hyde’s room. No charges were filed against Hyde, a senior then who had most recently served as a student assistant coach for the football team; he was barred by the university from football-related activities after the incident.
The gunman in that case was never identified, though investigators arrested his alleged accomplice, Brian Thomas Gonzales, 23, of Castro Valley, who is facing a burglary charge and is due in court in October.
Gear McMillan, president of the Cal Poly chapter of Delta Sigma Phi, disputed the idea that illegal drug activity played a role in Sunday’s attempted robbery.
“It’s a shame because we were the ones who were held up at gunpoint; we were the ones in danger,” McMillan said. “And the idea that this was somehow about drugs is shedding a negative light on us in the community.”
“If anyone in our house was doing anything like that, we would all know,” he added.
In a statement Monday morning, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said the university and its police department are working closely with San Luis Obispo police to determine what occurred.
“Cal Poly recognizes the seriousness of these charges and will move swiftly to take the appropriate responses,” Lazier wrote, adding that all five suspects have been suspended from all team activities indefinitely and the university will conduct its own internal investigation into possible student conduct violations.
Tim Walsh, in his sixth year as head coach of the Cal Poly football team, said Monday he is both “disappointed and sickened” by Sunday’s arrests.
Noting that he doesn’t have all the facts, Walsh said that he could not comment on a lot of things. But “as a head football coach and a man of the community, I’m concerned,” he said. “Just by the arrest, nobody's going to look at that and say anything positive about the situation."
Asked about the loss of the key players on the team, Walsh said, "They're not here now. The bottom line is we're going to coach the heck out of the guys that are here … get some of the young guys here up to speed and go forward with 90 guys that have done the right thing."
Asked if the football program needs to adjust its standards in light of the two gun-related events, Walsh said these “are things that we’re going to look into and discuss as a department-wide deal.”
Walsh also discussed drug testing in college sports.
Although the NCAA does test for performance-enhancing drugs, Walsh said it does not test for recreational use of prescription drugs such as Xanax.
Xanax is not one of the drugs routinely tested for by the Cal Poly athletics department, Lazier said.
Walsh would not comment on whether there is a drug problem on the team.
Players, who are usually made available for interviews following practice, were withheld from the media on Monday. "I'd like to keep our team stuff inside our team,” Walsh said when asked about the players' specific reaction to the news.
Court records show that none of the suspects arrested Sunday has a previous criminal history in San Luis Obispo County.
“This is not the crime of the century. These are not street thugs with long criminal histories,” Gesell said. “We also realize this is not indicative of the university’s student culture and have full faith the university will also take appropriate (academic) action.”
The police chief praised the “tremendous actions” of Officers Blanca Perez and Michael L’Heureux, who struggled with Akins, as well as the fraternity residents who assisted them.
According to San Luis Obispo County Jail logs, none of the suspects remained in custody Monday evening.
As of Monday evening, no charges had been filed by the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office in the case, and all five players were no longer listed on the official Mustang team roster posted online at GoPoly.com.