Although LHS officials claim they were in the dark about the circumstances surrounding 18-year-old basketball star Josh Wiltz’s Feb. 24 arrest on drug and weapons charges, their decision-making in the wake of the arrest came on the eve of an opportunity for a history-making state championship. Just how hard did those officials work to find more information about his arrest for illegal possession of a hand gun and possession of marijuana before allowing him on the court in two subsequent playoff games — and would any of this have come to light had it not been for a local TV station’s story? LHS’ belated suspension of Wiltz has been blasted by many parents and sports fans — among them one of the harshest critics of the delay, Lafayette Parish Superintendent Burnell Lemoine.
The LHS Mighty Lions overcame the controversy and adversity of eventually losing one of their standout starters — Wiltz was suspended from the team on Tuesday, March 4 — to trample H.L. Bourgeois 78-58 for the Division 5A state championship Saturday night in the Cajundome. For too many people, however, the suspension came too late; according to school district policy, Wiltz should have been immediately suspended from the team.
LHS Principal Patrick Leonard says he found out about the arrest on Tuesday, Feb. 26, and maintains that he tried to obtain more information but got no cooperation from the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department. “There was an effort to get the arrest report,” Leonard says, explaining that his school resource officer called the sheriff’s department, “and we were unable to obtain it.”
That Tuesday night, however, the senior standout played in a home game against Brother Martin, and two nights later, on Thursday, Feb. 28, KATC-TV3 blew the whistle on his arrest (the station made an editorial decision not to identify Wiltz), reporting that players’ parents were upset that there had been no consequences because he had started Tuesday’s game.
When confronted by the station’s reporter with the district policy that stated students “will be suspended from interscholastic competition” if they are arrested on these types of charges, Lafayette Parish Athletic Director James Simmons played a non-sensical semantics game with the station, saying the policy said “will” and not “shall,” so the decision rested with the coach.
Head coach Clifton Brown wouldn’t comment to the station on whether Wiltz would start in the next day’s playoff game against Destrehan, but Wiltz was again in the starting lineup, even scoring the winning basket.
Leonard initially told local media that Wiltz was being disciplined, a decision he’d left in the hands of coach Brown. It was Wiltz who notified his coach, and it’s unclear what part of that conversation convinced Brown that Wiltz should stay on the team. No specifics of the disciplinary action were disclosed.
Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Department spokesman Lt. Craig Stansbury does not understand why it took so long for school officials to get the information they needed, saying the initial arrest report and affidavit were available Monday morning and released to local media outlets that requested them. The initial incident report, which contains information like the location of the arrest and who was arrested, along with an affidavit that includes probable cause and a synopsis of the incident, are both a matter of public record, says Stansbury. The affidavit is turned in with the booking sheet; Wiltz was booked into the parish jail and released after posting a $500 bond. The affidavit would not be public record if it contained sensitive information that could jeopardize the case, like witness names or the names of juveniles, the spokesman says. “As soon as the initial report is turned in, it is available,” Stansbury says. “My question to [Leonard] is who did they ask? I’m available 24-7. He didn’t ask me.”
More than a week after the incident, on Monday, March 3, Leonard says he did receive more information on the arrest of Wiltz but declined to say who supplied the new details. Wiltz was charged with illegal use of a weapon, possession of marijuana, illegal use of a controlled drug and illegal carrying of a weapon. The principal initially decided to suspend Wiltz from the team through Thursday, meaning he would have missed the first Top 28 playoff game but would have been back in the action for Saturday’s final. However, Leonard says when additional details surfaced Tuesday from Superintendent Lemoine, he suspended Wiltz for the remainder of the season. (The LHS principal would not say when his resource officer first contacted the sheriff’s department.)
Whatever the eventual outcome of Wiltz’s guilt or innocence in the incident, the basketball player appears to have used questionable judgment on the night of Feb. 23 and into the early morning hours of Feb. 24. According to the affidavit, at about 1 a.m. the sheriff’s department identified three suspicious vehicles in Pa Davis Park, an area known for drug trafficking, one of which was driven by Wiltz. The vehicles were stopped, and the drivers gave the sheriff’s deputies permission to search the vehicle, where a loaded handgun was found. A small bag of marijuana was found in the right front pocket of Wiltz’s jeans, and a marijuana blunt was located in the back seat. Three unidentified minors were in the car with Wiltz.
What does appear clear is that had it not been for the action of Superintendent Lemoine, who was out of town on school business for much of the week following the arrest and read about the controversy the Saturday morning after Wiltz scored the winning basket against Destrehan, Wiltz would have remained on the team. After the Destrehan victory, both Brown and Leonard told local media that while the decision was difficult, they felt the right decision had been made.
That’s not the way the school system’s top official saw it from the outset, and Lemoine’s misgivings about how the situation was handled were confirmed Monday, March 3, when he pulled the policy and reviewed it. “I felt it was clear cut,” he says, explaining that he immediately called the parish athletic director and Leonard and told them Wiltz’s season was over. Lemoine disputes Leonard’s statement that Monday’s decision was to suspend the player only through Thursday. “Maybe that was their interpretation, but it was not mine. The season was finished,” the superintendent says.
Later that day, a TV3 reporter showed Lemoine the initial arrest report and affidavit, cementing his decision that the policy had been violated.
This week, Lemoine plans to call a meeting of all parish principals to discuss the matter and devise a plan or policy for how these types of incidents will be dealt with in the future, including how to immediately ascertain records from law enforcement officials. “I’m very concerned; I want students to be treated the same,” Lemoine says.
The superintendent says he has no idea what Wiltz told his coach about the arrest or why school officials allowed him to continue playing. “I’m not sure what their interpretation [of the policy] was,” Lemoine says. “I’ll have to deal with that in my own way.”
According to the school district’s policy, student athletes are to be suspended from competition if they are caught — in or out of school — using or possessing drugs, alcohol or tobacco; fighting, stealing, lying, having false identification, forging, cheating, vandalizing or have trouble with the police. “Any student athlete who commits any of these violations will be suspended immediately and may be suspended up to one calendar year pending staff review,” the policy states.
Leonard’s comments in a Daily Advertiser story the Saturday after LHS’ win over Destrehan had the principal in a defensive posture, saying discipline is intended to change behavior, “not ruin lives.”
Surprisingly, the principal was still defending the decision last week, saying the policy further stipulates that all disciplinary action should be “reasonable and based upon the specific circumstances and facts” as determined by the school’s administration. “I didn’t have any circumstances or facts to review,” he says. “It took that long to get the facts.”
In the end, Leonard and Brown seem to be missing the point: that the policy is intended to teach student-athletes a lesson about the choices they make.
MAY 23 Here's a story in the Picayune about some statistics that must come as a blow to folks who believe that any private school can do a better job of educating kids than any public school: Danielle Dreilinger reports that only 30 percent of the voucher kids are passing. That's less than half of the state wide average, she says. It's an interesting statistic because most of the schools (if not all) taking voucher kids have never had their students' standardized test scores released to the public before.
MAY 23 Stephen Sabludowsky blogs on Bayou Buzz about auditor requests here. Recently the state GOP started crowing about a request from the Legislative Auditor, claiming they were being targeted because of their anti-tax stance. (Uh, your what?) Denial and hyperbole aside, the state Democratic party blew holes in that theory with an email announcing they'd received the same request, Sabludowsky writes here.
MAY 23 Jim Brown blogs about the senate race in this post. He says that, given Bobby Jindal's "lack of traction" on the national stage, it might make more sense for the governor to consider running against Mary Landrieu for the senate seat. Since Tim Teeple left the Cassidy team, it makes sense he might land on a Jindal for Senate team, Brown opines.
MAY 23 In this Louisiana Voice post, blogger Tom Aswell writes of rumors that his nemesis, state Superintendent of Education John White, may be soon departing Louisiana for a federal post. It's hard to believe, given his performance, Aswell says, but stranger things have happened. An anti-White BESE member says that, if true, White is quitting before he can be fired.
MAY 23 In this post on American Zombie, blogger Jason Berry writes about the Mother's Day shooting. Mayor Landrieu said that "this is not who we are," but the fact is, this is New Orleans, Berry writes. The violence infused in the city is the result of a culture created by "sins of omission or sins of commission," Berry writes. It's not a problem that can be solved by legislating, policing, praying or publicizing, he says: Someone's got to understand what's happening first.
MAY 23 This post in the Westside Journal tells us what Port Allen Mayor Deedy has been up to lately: vetoing ordinances, apparently. This story is most interesting, however, when it delves into a petition that has been circulating around the city lately. It accuses the former mayor of a lot of nasty things; the former mayor says it is full of lies and "broken syntax" which may be a larger offense in his eyes.
MAY 23 This editorial posted in The Advocate is a bit confusing. The writing is poor - definitely not up to the usual editorial writing standard there - and the point is hard to grasp. Apparently, the writer is saying that privatization of state efforts is OK, as long as there is oversight and transparency, but Jindal's not good at that, and the legislature shouldn't over-react. Okey Dokey. Can't they get one of them Pulitzer-winning people to write an editorial?
MAY 23 This post on The Lens gives you links to a new Google Earth tool that allows you to see any spot on earth transform over the past 30 years. Bob Marshall, who covers the coast for the paper, says that in the case of Louisiana's coastline, it's possibly something you don't want to see, because it's not a pretty picture. There are several clips here, showing critical areas erode away. For Marshall, it was vindication for all those times he was met with eye-rolling when he talked about erosion.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.