Crime

Cal Poly to investigate drug activity in football program, president says

Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team.
Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Two days after the arrest of five Cal Poly football players suspected of planning or carrying out an attempted armed robbery at a fraternity, university president Jeffrey Armstrong said the campus will investigate possible illegal drug and criminal activity within the football program.

Armstrong unveiled upcoming changes to bolster the athletic department drug policy, and athletic director Don Oberhelman said the university needs to determine whether a culture of drug abuse has infected the program.

“Illegal drugs and criminal activity have absolutely no place at Cal Poly,” Armstrong said in a statement issued by the university Tuesday. “They are anathema to student success, the Mustang Way and the expectations we hold for all members of the Cal Poly family.”

Armstrong said each current member of the football team will now be tested for illegal use of drugs to supplement the current testing program, which previously required only an unspecified number of screenings on randomly-selected student-athletes.

Armstrong said the recent attempted robbery “bears striking commonalities” with a November 2013 shooting of former Cal Poly football player and student assistant coach Geoff Hyde in what was found to be a drug deal gone wrong involving the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.

Oberhelman said the new team-wide test will introduce a search for traces of Benzodiazapine, the psychiatric prescription drug used in Xanax, which Oberhleman said has not been banned by the NCAA but is still against the department policy if used illegally.

Oberhelman, hired by Cal Poly in 2011 after working in athletic departments at San Diego State, Florida State, Texas A&M and Southern Mississippi, said Cal Poly has not tested any differently than any of his previous schools.

In light of the past year, however, it’s clear that not enough testing is done, he said.

One of the limiting factors is the cost of drug testing, Oberhelman said. A full screening for all NCAA-banned drugs costs about $50 per student; adding benzodiazepine-type drugs raises the cost to $90, he said. To test the whole football team would cost about $10,000.

Cost can no longer be a limitation, Oberhelman said. “We’ve got an issue that’s bigger than that at this point.”

The Hyde shooting, Oberhelman said, was initially viewed as “an isolated incident from an individual that made really bad decisions.”

The arrests Sunday, which police have also linked to drugs, provide possible evidence of a troubling trend.

“Now we have multiple individuals, which means we have a much bigger issue,” Oberhelman said, “and now we’ve got to figure out if we do have a cultural issue within our program. We’re going to get to the bottom of that.

“Right now, I’m just mad at the young men that have done this. I’m mad at the way they’ve represented the program. I’m mad at the way they represented Cal Poly. I’m mad at the situation. I don’t think I can be mad at anybody else except the people that perpetrated the incident.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the District Attorney's Office had yet to file charges on the five suspects in Sunday’s attempted robbery: Cameron Marcel Akins, 19, of Monrovia; Kristaan Sterling Ivory, 20, of Los Angeles; Cortland Josiah Fort, 20, of Fontana; Dominique Alize Love, 19, of Poway; and Jake Anthony Brito, 18, of Cypress.

An arraignment has been scheduled for Aug. 25 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Detectives from the San Luis Obispo Police Department spent Tuesday working with university police officers interviewing several persons of interest in the case. No further arrests have been made.

Akins was arrested at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house on California Boulevard near campus early Sunday after allegedly holding several fraternity members at gunpoint and then tussling with officers before being taken into custody. Fort was arrested in a vehicle nearby, and the remaining three were arrested later that morning.

A recovered handgun allegedly used by Akins was a Davis Industries .38-caliber semi-automatic pistol, said San Luis Obispo police Capt. Keith Storton. Storton declined to say whether the gun was registered to Akins, or loaded, citing the ongoing investigation.

Fraternity members dispute that any illegal drug activity took place at the residence. Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity has only one record of punitive action in its file with the Office of Student Affairs — a probation in 2012 resulting from an unruly gathering citation.

As for the football players, all five posted bail and are no longer in jail. They remain suspended indefinitely from the team.

Oberhelman said the department will wait at least until charges are filed to act further on their status with the football program. He also said he hopes cooperation with law enforcement investigators will uncover any remaining illegal activity within the program.

Oberhelman was also supportive of Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh, who he said runs a “tight ship” and “clean program.”

“All these guys were recruited to Cal Poly by this coaching staff,” Oberhelman said. “They were fully vetted, they were admitted to the university with our high academic standards. I think coaches did everything right in terms of their evaluations of these guys. Somewhere along the way something happened.

“I also think that it’s hard to predict some things. Once in a while, something bad can happen, and this is one of those once in a whiles.”

Statement from Cal Poly president

The following is the statement issued by Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong:

Illegal drugs and criminal activity have absolutely no place at Cal Poly. They are anathema to student success, the Mustang Way and the expectations we hold for all members of the Cal Poly family.

We are committed to working with San Luis Obispo police through the conclusion of their ongoing criminal investigation into last weekend’s robbery, in which several of our student athletes are said to have taken part. As soon as that process is complete — and through consultation with University Police, city police and the county’s Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office — Cal Poly will conduct a thorough examination into possible illegal drugs and criminal activity within our football program and on campus.

Information police have provided about last weekend’s robbery bears striking commonalities with a 2013 incident involving one of our former student-athletes. We need to determine if a broader problem exists in our football program. To that end, we will expand drug testing to include all members of the football team. This will screen for a wider array of illegal substances than has been covered by the Athletics Department’s existing, NCAA-guided random testing program for all student-athletes.

As always, we continue to monitor and review all policies and procedures relating to student conduct and to look for ways to enhance our support systems for all of our students, to provide them with the resources and educational opportunities to make good choices and embrace good citizenship.

Student health and success are our guiding principles, and Cal Poly has done and will continue to do all it can to ensure the continued well-being of our entire student body.

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