Report: At U of M, ‘no snitching’ keeps investigators stymied

[Update 5:32 p.m. 6/29/16 — Citing lack of evidence, authorities decline to pursue the case, Star Tribune reports]

The Star Tribune reports today that University of Minnesota wrestling coach J Robinson has refused to cooperate with authorities investigating an alleged drug ring run by his team.

A former team member says the drug ring sold Xanax. The informant, who has not been identified by the Star Tribune, says four members were dealing and other members of the team were using, and once he found out about it, Robinson had the alleged drug dealers write papers.

The paper says investigators have been stymied trying to get the names from Robinson.

“He said [to police], ‘Listen, I’m not going to work with you,’ ” Robinson’s attorney, Ryan Kaess, told reporter Amelia Rayno. “ ‘Why are you ostensibly coming after these kids? We need to help them — not hang a felony around their necks.’ ”

According to the affidavit, Robinson met with officers April 12 but refused to provide them with wrestlers’ names, documents in his possession and other information pertinent to the investigation. Robinson then said he would provide extensive information to police in exchange for “immunity” for his athletes.

Coach J Robinson refused to help investigators in a drug probe, documents show.

“Robinson said that he would provide more detailed information beyond possession and use by his players if we could grant his players immunity,” university investigator Aaron Churness wrote in the report.

Two days later, police tried to interview wrestlers. When officers arrived at the students’ classes, they were not present. When contacted again, the informant told police that Robinson had alerted some wrestlers that they were being investigated and informed them to seek legal counsel.

The coach’s behavior ultimately led to a search warrant directed at both Robinson and the 14 wrestlers alleged to be involved, which was served April 15. Investigators seized three computers, a DVD drive, 15 storage drives and an iPhone from Robinson’s office at the Bierman Athletic Building, according to the warrant.

A noble act? Some of Robinson’s supporters think so, the story’s comments indicate.

This is damning for JR, but as of yet he appears to have not committed a crime. It is not a crime to refuse to cooperate with an police investigation so long as he is not actively interfering (5th amendment), and it is not a crime to refuse to incriminate one’s self or others under the constitution (also 5th amendment). However, authorities may go after JR on a number of smaller crimes, but not until they prove other crimes have been committed (disposing of evidence in an active investigation). It’s all a about the timeline and we still don’t know if enough to pass legal judgment.

I have defended JR as he has not, at this point, been shown to be protecting his own interests. Defending his student-athletes, and not turning them into police is no different than any parent or guardian would do. Spare me the pious arguments about drugs and “doing the right thing”, none of us would turn in our own kids until we believed there was not other choice, we would do our best to eliminate the problem from within. And spare the argument that he’s a coach, not a parent. Any coach worth his or her weight considers their kids ‘their kids’.

With that said, if JR is proven to be complicit in crimes, of which he has not yet been charged, he is done for and deserves whatever comes his way.

A fair enough point, one supposes. But is the admiration for protecting someone consistently applied? Take this story in a recent Star Tribune, for example.

In north Minneapolis, police are running into roadblocks when investigating crimes because people are either too afraid to come forward or they don’t want to help the police.

In some neighborhoods, police say that when they start going door to door for information, witnesses develop what detectives sarcastically refer to as “convenient amnesia.”

And a wave of anti-police sentiment triggered by the high-profile killings of unarmed black men by officers in Minneapolis and elsewhere has only made it harder to persuade potential witnesses to speak up, others contend. Many people aren’t convinced that police can protect them if they decide to come forward with information.

“People feel that police will sometimes pass information along” about who is informing, said longtime civil rights activist Ron Edwards, pointing to the now-defunct Metro Gang Strike Force, of which several members were accused of disclosing the identities of cooperating witnesses to rival gang members.

To its credit, the newspaper didn’t open up comments on the north Minneapolis snitching story; it usually doesn’t on crime stories because it can get pretty ugly. So we have no way of comparing the two scenarios to assess whether the public’s reaction is any different.

Discuss: Are there similarities in the refusal to cooperate? When (if at all) is a refusal to cooperate with police in an investigation acceptable to keep kids from having police records? What are the long-term societal implications? Is there a balance between protecting someone and a responsibility to the larger community?

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