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News / Northwest

Prosecutors decline to charge suspect in Coeur d’Alene racial harassment of Utah women’s basketball team

By Alexandra Duggan, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 7, 2024, 7:46am

SPOKANE — Coeur d’Alene city attorneys have declined to charge an 18-year-old suspected of yelling intimidating racial slurs at the University of Utah women’s basketball team that marred their experience playing in March Madness in Spokane.

Prosecutors said the suspect, Post Falls High School student Anthony Myers, admitted he used the N-word and referred to a sex act when yelling at the players with the desire to be “funny,” according to a written decision released Monday afternoon by Chief Deputy City Attorney Ryan Hunter.

Myers’ words, however, were deemed to be protected speech under Idaho law. Prosecutors described the language as racist and misogynistic, but determined Myers’ actions did not amount to criminal conduct .

On March 21, about 100 members of Utah’s athletics department including players, coaches, band members, cheerleaders, the dance team and school officials walked along Sherman Avenue from the Coeur d’Alene Resort, where they were staying as part of the NCAA Tournament held in Spokane. The team, along with members of the band and the athletic department, walked down the street to have dinner at Crafted Tap House + Kitchen downtown. They had a 5:30 p.m. reservation for around 90 people, according to restaurant manager Junior Mujtaba.

Utah team donor Robert Moyer reported the harassment to police two hours after the incident. In the report, he said people inside multiple lifted pickups and a “souped-up car” yelled racial slurs, including the N-word, at the nonwhite players as the drivers revved their engines. On the walk back from dinner, the group appeared to have been waiting for the team, Moyer reported, with the vehicles speeding up and slowing down hurling slurs.

The prosecutor’s document, which includes the Couer d’Alene Police Department’s three-week investigation, said there was surveillance video of lifted trucks driving by around the time the team was walking to dinner, but no evidence to support that the occupants of the trucks were revving their engines or yelling racial slurs at the team.

The investigation included about two dozen interviews and hours of surveillance video.

More evidence supports that the use of racial slurs was audible when the team was walking back from dinner, the documents said. Footage captured a silver passenger car driving past the team, with someone inside the car shouting multiple racial slurs and threatening sexual acts, the document said. A female voice is also heard in the audio shouting for someone to call the police.

Five witnesses gave varied descriptions of the car and the person shouting racial slurs from inside of it.

Moyer said the hateful language and loud vehicles, which he described as “aggressive,” forced the team to walk faster to the restaurant.

“Some of us didn’t realize what had happened until we got to the restaurant and people are just like … one was in tears,” he said.

The University of Utah declined to comment Monday.

The incident did not become publicized until after Utah lost to Gonzaga University in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane the following Monday.

It grew into a national story, sparked outrage from Coeur d’Alene leaders and brought negative attention to the city.

On Monday afternoon, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond said he was disappointed to hear there would not be charges filed, or an alternative that would have held the those responsible accountable.

“I’m disappointed that there isn’t some kind of accountability,” Hammond said. “I’m not going to second-guess the prosecutor who made that decision, but I’m disappointed there’s not some form of community service that child can perform to be held accountable.”

Hammond said he hopes the person’s parents do what they can to make it clear the ramifications of his actions. He wants the city to be known as an area where people are treated with respect, and worries the decision not to file charges will send the wrong message.

“The concern that I have is, I don’t want the message to be that it’s OK to behave like that, that it’s OK to treat people like that,” Hammond said. “Because it’s not.”

Hunter explored charging Myers with disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct or malicious harassment, but ultimately found that the incident did not rise to the level to support filing criminal charges.

In the decision against charging Myers with malicious harassment, the prosecutor wrote:

“As to the first requirement of specific intent to intimidate or harass, there is insufficient evidence that Anthony Myers acted with a specific intent to intimidate or harass any specific person; on the contrary, the sum of the evidence supports that Mr. Myers’s intent was to be funny.

“To be clear, the statements of the other occupants of the vehicle and of Mr. Myers himself all support that he — as a white male — thought it would be funny to shout his willingness to have anal sex with a Black female despite his expressed hate for Black folks, which he made abundantly clear by deploying the N-word. Setting aside the rank absurdity of that claim and the abjectly disgusting thought process required to believe it would be humorous to say something that abhorrent, it nevertheless undermines that he had the required specific intent to intimidate and harass.”

In declining to pursue charges of disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, Hunter said:

“What has been clear from the very outset of this incident is that it was not when or where or how Mr. Myers made the grotesque racial statement that caused the justifiable outrage in this case; it was the grotesque racial statement itself.

“Thus, any attempt to prosecute Mr. Myers for either disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct would inevitably rely on the content of what he said to establish either crime, which would clearly violate Mr. Myers’s free speech rights as contemplated under both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and … the Idaho Constitution.”

Hunter said that the prosecutors’ office “shares the outrage sparked by Anthony Myers’s abhorrently racist and misogynistic statement.” He noted that prosecutors are duty-bound to only pursue charges that are supported by probable cause that a crime was committed.

Tony Stewart, founding member and secretary of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, said it’s important to note the investigation confirmed the incident happened, after critics of his organization and the investigation in general, called into question the validity of the team’s experience .

“We certainly condemn individuals who are derogatory to others,” Stewart said. “Unfortunately this incident did happen, and it’s very sad. We support the victim even if there is no prosecution.”

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The organization has seen a number of cases related to human rights in its 43 years, and Stewart said each one can differ from the next, and not all of them had charges attached. It can be frustrating, but that decision is left up to the prosecutor.

“This is another example where it’s very important to support the victims, and speak out on their behalf,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s proud of the work the Kootenai County task force did to draw attention to and denounce the incident and show its support to the young women involved. He noted the task force worked alongside similar partners in the area, including Human Rights Spokane, to do so.

“We sent a message loud and clear that we are so sorry it happened and we are in support of the victim,” Stewart said. “And we denounce, whether it’s verbal or physical, any sort of disparaging of another human being.”

Coeur d’Alene Capt. David Hagar declined to comment on the charging decision and said the investigation speaks for itself.