By Greg Archuleta
Enchantment Sports Assistant Editor
University of New Mexico football coach Bob Davie on Thursday staunchly defended the school’s decision to wait more than two days to suspend a player for his role in an altercation that left a teammate hospitalized.
KOB-TV first reported on Tuesday night about the altercation between senior linebacker Evahelotu Tohi and teammate David Wilkins-Brown that took place at a party on Saturday, saying Wilkins-Brown had to be hospitalized because Tohi had beaten him up so badly.
Tohi is a fifth-year senior on scholarship, and the Lobos’ leading tackler. Wilkins-Brown is a sophomore walk-on linebacker who played at Eldorado High School.
KOB added that it had to press UNM athletics officials for a comment on the incident before Davie issued a statement to the news station that Tohi had been suspended from all team activities.
Davie confirmed on Thursday that he knew Sunday morning Wilkins-Brown (Davie did not mention him by name; a police report shows his name) had been hospitalized. Davie added that he didn’t know Tohi was involved until Sunday night.
However, UNM allowed Tohi to practice both Monday and Tuesday.
After practice on Thursday, Davie said “I talked to Evah immediately. But I didn’t go into the details of it because it’s not my role to do the investigation on what happened.”
Davie didn’t clarify when “immediately” was. He then said, “What I do is give it to the athletic director (Eddie Nuñez), as I did immediately, who gives it to the university, who talks to the (university) president.
“I don’t think anybody wants the football coach being the investigator. In fact, I think people have learned that that’s absolutely the wrong way to do these things. … All the football coach does is put himself in harm’s way by hearing the story, quite honestly. A football coach is not the judge and jury when these things happen, regardless of what it is, when there’s different accounts on things that happen.”
Typically, schools remove the coach from responsibility for deciding what happens to a player when that incident involves a non-student-athlete. The incident late Saturday night, however, involved Lobo football teammates.
The police report concerning the altercation said Marissa Brown, Wilkins-Brown’s mother, told police she went to the hospital to see her son, and Tohi was with him.
According to the report, Tohi said he called Wilkins-Brown, “Brownie,” to which Wilkins-Brown took offense. Wilkins-Brown “proceeded to ‘chest bump’ him several times.”
Tohi admitted to punching Wilkins-Brown in the face.
The report also stated that a witness, Ritshley Bissereth, which the police report indicated was a teammate (there is no “Ritshley Bissereth” listed on the Lobo football roster), told police the Wilkins-Brown and Tohi appeared to be “play fighting” at first. Then, Tohi punched Wilkins-Brown in the chest and in the face.
Two teammates pulled Tohi away, but he broke free and punched Wilkins-Brown once more in the face, causing Wilkins-Brown to fall “backward to the floor, unconscious.”
Bissereth added that “at no point did David attempt to fight back,” the report stated.
Still, Davie insisted he was following University protocol.
“I handle the procedure the way I am told to handle the procedure, exactly,” Davie said. “I didn’t even know that it was Evah that was involved until Sunday night. I didn’t talk to Evah Sunday night. Monday, we show up for practice; I talked to Evah. I said, ‘Was there a situation, and were you involved?’ Yes.’ I said, ‘Don’t tell me anything else.’ I followed protocol exactly how protocol is supposed to be followed, just like in every situation I’ve had here.”
It wasn’t until Tuesday that Davie and Nuñez decided Tuesday afternoon that suspending Tohi from all team activities was the proper course of action.
“I had a pretty good idea of what I was going to do all along, based on early assessment of the situation,” Davie said. “But Tuesday, the athletic director and I decided he should be suspended. Absolutely, 100 percent the right way to do business, the right way to sit back and let the dust settle a little bit. We didn’t play a game Monday; we didn’t play a game Tuesday. The decision was made to suspend the player. And I don’t take that lightly. That’s where it is.”
Davie said that he has allowed suspended players to practice in the past. He expects Wilkins-Brown to be released from the hospital today.
When asked whether he was concerned about any negative perception of delaying the decision to suspend Tohi for the altercation that forced Wilkins-Brown to be taken to the hospital, Davie was defiant.
“Absolutely not,” Davie said. “That’s the right way to do it. I knew the moment our trainers got called that one of our men was in the hospital on Sunday morning when it got to me. I know the media had it; that’s zero how I do business. I try to do what’s right, and there’s nobody that could ever question that.
I go back to every situation I’ve been in — I do what’s right, and I don’t flinch, based on any other thing than on what’s the right way to do it.”
Greg Archuleta is the assistant editor at Enchantment Sports. He was the New Mexico Lobo football beat writer for the Albuquerque Journal for 12 years and worked as a professional journalist for more than two decades. You can reach him at enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.