Hamline Suspends Coach, Forfeits Game After Player Arrest

Updated: 01/05/2013 11:34 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert

Hamline University has suspended its head men's basketball coach "indefinitely," ordered Saturday's scheduled game against Gustavus Adolphus to be forfeited and is considering discipline or suspensions for 14 of the team's players, according to a statement issued by the University to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Friday afternoon.

The sweeping action came two days after 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS broke the story of a player's arrest in Spokane, Wash. while on a team trip.

Eugene Lawrence III, 18, a first-year forward from New Orleans, was subsequently charged with felony second-degree assault, accused of hitting a woman in the face at the team hotel so hard it broke her jaw.

On Friday, Lawrence was dismissed from the basketball team, a university spokeswoman confirmed, and suspended from the university.

Also, head men's basketball coach Nelson Whitmore has been suspended indefinitely, the university said. When approached by a reporter Wednesday evening, Whitmore had declined comment.

Lawrence made an initial court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Spokane County Superior Court and later posted a $5,000 bond and was released from custody. KSTP-TV had a crew from affiliate KXLY-TV inside the courtroom.

A statement from Hamline University (full text below) acknowledged "this is an extraordinarily serious incident and we are treating it as such. We hold our players to the highest standards as students, athletes, and citizens. Behavior contrary to the principles set forth in our codes of conduct will not be tolerated."

In an email sent to the Hamline community Friday afternoon, Provost Eric Jensen said Lawrence had now been "dismissed" from the team and suspended from the university "pending a formal hearing."

In addition, Jensen announced the university will coordinate a "Green Dot" program in the athletic department to "implement a strategy of violence prevention that consistently, measurably reduces power-based personal violence."

Also, a "unified policy for Hamline-sponsored off campus activities" will be assembled, according Jensen's message.

Lawrence is accused of hitting Kayla Bray, 20, of Portland, Ore., who was in Spokane to visit her grandparents. She had gone to the team hotel on New Year's Eve with player Tyler Pannell, who is also from Portland and knew Bray from high school. Bray had not previously met Lawrence.

According to the criminal complaint, Pannell heard "a loud 'smack' and saw that Bray, the victim, had been punched in the face," and then "saw the defendant (Lawrence) leaving the room with a 'smirk' on his face."

Another player, Noah Aguirre, told police he saw Bray "laughing and teasing the defendant and heard her say something about hitting her. He saw the defendant step towards the victim very quickly and punch her in the face. He observed the victim's face start to swell and saw her scream and crying."

The woman's father, Steve Bray, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on Wednesday that when his daughter asked other players for help to get to the hospital, they refused, telling her it would violate the team curfew.

Kayla Bray ended up calling 911 herself, her father said, because she could not drive to the hospital in her condition.

A police officer who responded to the team's Spokane hotel noticed Bray's face was "badly bruised and swollen," according to the criminal complaint.

Lawrence was then arrested and taken to the Spokane County jail and booked early New Year's Day where he was held until Friday.

Here is the full statement issued to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS from Hamline University on Friday:

After a thorough external investigation and internal review of the matter, including interviews with the players traveling with the team, we have disciplined a number of the players on our men’s basketball team. One of our players is accused of seriously injuring a young woman on New Year’s Eve while the team was in Spokane, Washington for a tournament. Eugene Lawrence has been released to the custody of his parents in his home state. He was dismissed from the basketball program and suspended from the university pending a formal hearing. Fourteen students face disciplinary procedures for student handbook violations and team suspensions of varying lengths of time for violating standards set forth in Hamline’s athletic code of conduct. The team’s head coach is suspended indefinitely. As a consequence, Saturday's scheduled men’s basketball game will be forfeited. 

This is an extraordinarily serious incident and we are treating it as such. We hold our players to the highest standards as students, athletes, and citizens. Behavior contrary to the principles set forth in our codes of conduct will not be tolerated.

Eugene Lawrence III Complaint