EXCUSE ME, IS THIS A UNIVERSITY OR A PRISON FARM?
The national media went crazy over the rape, especially since it came so quickly after the shooting.
--Barry Switzer, former University of Oklahoma football coach, in Bootlegger's Boy
Let's examine the events surrounding Arizona State University's fleet-footed quarterback and admitted sneak thief, Garrick McGee.
Charles Harris, the slippery, smooth-talking athletic director at ASU, characterizes McGee as a fine young man guilty only of making some wrong decisions.
Harris and Bruce Snyder, the football coach, agree that McGee's punishment for his crime wave along Mill Avenue in Tempe should be suspension from a single ASU football game. Incredibly, the weak-kneed president of the university, Lattie Coor, stands by and is unable to murmur even a word of dissent.
The state criminal code prescribes the penalty for the crimes to which McGee has confessed as five years in a state prison.
I apologize. I know your eyes must widen in disbelief when you read things like this.
You must have the same questions I do.
How can Harris' perception of criminal activity differ so widely from the law's? Are the people who wrote the laws crazed? Well, for one thing, Harris is in the business of generating crowds at football games. That's his bottom line. The criminal justice people, on the other hand, are charged only with making the streets safe. McGee was picked to be this year's starting quarterback for the Sun Devils because he is a talented, swift runner who will prove dangerous to opposing teams. No matter how many scrapes McGee gets into with the law, they will not matter to Harris and Snyder, so long as McGee performs well on the field. This Saturday McGee is scheduled to lead Arizona State into an important game against the formidable University of Louisville. Louisville barely lost its opener to Ohio State University, and is shooting for a postseason bowl bid. So are the Sun Devils.
The photogenic Sun Devil Stadium is a mere four-minute stroll down the street from the Leather Mill at 640 South Mill, scene of the most effective piece of open-field running McGee has displayed since his arrival on campus.
Here's what happened, according to police reports and subsequent confessions. Read the unadorned prose of the police and you get the real picture.
From academia, you get Paradise Lost. From the cops, you get A Clockwork Orange.
Perhaps Harris' values are so totally turned around because he's so close to the situation. He's like Barry Switzer in Switzer's final days at the University of Oklahoma.
When Switzer's quarterback in 1989, a young man named Charles Thompson, was nabbed by the FBI for selling cocaine, Switzer's immediate defense was that Thompson wasn't using cocaine, only selling it.
I keep thinking of poor Rodney King standing there in front of a forest of TV cameras and asking plaintively:
"Can we all get along?"
Not this way.
@body:On Friday, December 13, 1991, quarterback McGee and Tim Smith, a linebacker from the Sun Devil football team, pushed through the front door of the Leather Mill, not far from the Coffee Plantation on teeming Mill Avenue, a central gathering place for college students and faculty members. It was the fourth time within the span of a week that McGee and Smith had gone to the same store to try on the top-quality leather jackets.
The place is owned and operated by Mitch and Bunny Stoller, transplants from Illinois. Years ago, says Mitch Stoller, he played football as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. Mitch is proud of the fact that he was on the same team with Ray Nitschke, who went on to become a member of the National Football League Hall of Fame following a spectacular career as a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers.
Ironically, Nitschke himself had engaged in off-campus activities which resulted in his being brought before a campus disciplinary body.
Nitschke, the story goes, drank too much beer one night and mouthed off to a waitress in a restaurant just off the Illini campus. The waitress poured a bottle of ketchup over his head. When it was learned how Nitschke had behaved, he was ordered to make a public apology for his rudeness.
The Stollers insist they like and admire young athletes. They enjoy it when members of the Phoenix Cardinals come into their store to look through their collection of expensive leather jackets. The Cardinals, who earn big salaries, can easily afford to pay for them.
Bunny Stoller had been growing increasingly nervous, however, over the visits of these two young men who loitered in the store for long periods, trying on the jackets, without making a purchase. On their most recent visit, she had become frightened and suspicious when they asked her as they departed what time she was planning to close the store.
She locked the door for the night as soon as the two Arizona State athletes stepped into the street.
That night, the Hub clothing store, just a block away at 522 South Mill, was robbed. Smith and McGee have since admitted they did it.
Now the pair was back at the Leather Mill again. But Bunny Stoller wasn't on hand to identify them to Mitch, who was busily waiting on other customers.
Once again McGee and Smith went through the ritual of trying on the same jackets. Mitch kept bustling about with the other customers. The pair preened before a mirror, admiring how they looked.
The theory of the theft had been worked out in advance. Smith would leave the store and start up the car, parked a short distance away. Then McGee, extremely quick on his feet, would snatch the jackets and run to the car with them under his arm.
Running at top speed with something under his arm is, of course, a talent quite similar to the one Coach Snyder will call upon McGee to display for thousands of Sun Devil football fans this Saturday against Louisville.
When Mitch Stoller walked to the rear of the store to assist a woman shopper from Paradise Valley, McGee snatched not two, but three leather jackets and rolled out onto Mill Avenue.
The shopkeeper heard the quick shuffle of feet as McGee scurried to escape. Stoller chased after him, his middle-aged lungs bursting. But Stoller slipped and fell to the pavement.
A man parking his bicycle near the Coffee Plantation saw what was happening. He followed the sprinting ASU football player on his bike. He saw McGee leap into a Dodge Dart with California plates and be driven away. A tee shirt had been carefully placed over the rear license plates so that the numbers could not be identified.
This was a well-executed theft that somehow went wrong. The store owner had seen McGee leave with the jackets. The man on the bike had chased him. McGee and Smith were worried that someone had read the license plate number from the front plate.
A quick decision was made by the football players. They would cut their losses. They would return the jackets and attempt to avoid prosecution.
Less than two hours later, a young man since identified as Demond Sampson, a cornerback on the Sun Devil football team, entered the Leather Mill carrying the three stolen leather jackets valued at approximately $1,000.
"I can't believe the boys did that," Sampson told Bunny Stoller as he returned the leather jackets. Sampson identified himself not as a member of the Sun Devil football team, but as a shocked "uncle" of the two young boys who had stolen the jackets.
As you can see, this current crop of Sun Devil athletes is adept at the art of the con as well as the snatch and grab.
Later, when Tim Smith made his statement to the police admitting his part, he did not identify his accomplice as McGee. He told police that the man who stole the merchandise from the stores was a cousin. Smith told the cops how the thefts had been accomplished. They hardly seem to stem from the wrong decisions of good young men that Harris speaks about. They are clearly the work of schooled street punks.
I am reminded of what Barry Switzer said about recruiting players who turned out bad:
"He was a criminal. No program can detect that."
But Arizona State, with Harris in charge, seems to have recruited an entire class of criminals from the ghettos of this country stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
It is no exaggeration to call this an "outlaw program."
In explaining himself to the cops, Smith said he and McGee would browse in a store for a while and then grab what they wanted and run to their car, usually parked across the street.
Smith told police that on October 22, 1991, they had bolted from the University Sporting Goods store at 1038 South Mill with Los Angeles Raiders jackets still on the hangers. On December 9 of that year, they had run out with shirts and jeans from the Hub clothing store at 522 South Mill.
There were other incidents for which the police dropped charges in exchange for the confession.
Although Smith was interviewed as long ago as last December 17 in the presence of Dave Boller, an ASU administrative assistant for football, no one in the athletic department wants to admit they knew of McGee's connection.
Police reports indicate that Smith at first covered up for McGee, telling police that his accomplice was a cousin he called "Anthony Avis." Perhaps he was studying the rental-car advertisements that day. But there has been more to the campus life of Garrick McGee.
In March 1992, he attended a dance with some other Sun Devil football players. The aforementioned Demond Sampson was one of them. So was Eddie Cade, who plays safety, and Rathan Smith, a linebacker. There was an argument.
Later McGee, Cade and Sampson were all in a car with Rathan Smith when Smith spotted one of the young men with whom they had become embroiled at the dance.
Rathan Smith, according to police reports, rolled down a window of the car and fired a shot at James A. Hale, 19, of Phoenix, hitting him in the stomach.
McGee was questioned by police and kept in reserve as a possible witness for Rathan Smith's trial, which is scheduled for later this month.
In April of this year, Tim Smith finally confessed his role in the Tempe thefts. Belatedly, he named McGee and volunteered to testify against him.
By this time, McGee was already being held in reserve as a witness in the shooting incident. It makes you wonder about the cops. Obviously, they were going to let the thefts slide as long as they needed McGee as a witness.
McGee's public reaction when it was determined he would serve only a one-game suspension is instructive.
"I deserve to be punished for what I did," he said. "But that's over now. There's nothing I can do about that."
Nobody emerges with clean hands.
Snyder, the spanking-new coach, comes out looking oily and self-serving. Harris is left with no credibility at all. If President Coor, that brass-plated hypocrite, had an ounce of courage, he would sack Harris, instanter.
But nothing will happen. They will all connive and bumble their way forward into darkness. Committees will be appointed, studies made, reports given, all while waiting for the next felony to be committed by a student-athlete.
In the meantime, the damage to Arizona State University's reputation can never be repaired. How truly terrible for everyone.
We are left with a huge university system from which no resident of the state can derive an ounce of pride.
THE LOVE BLOAT TAKE HEART, AMERICA. THE ... v9-16-92
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.