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Six Florida players face discipline after armed run-in with Gainesville gambler

The dumbest story of the offseason is here.

NCAA Football: Florida State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Six Florida Gators football players face potential discipline through the student conduct process for their roles in an on-campus confrontation in May that featured an Airsoft gun painted to look like an AR-15, a frying pan, a defensive tackle escaping a dorm room through a window, and a Gainesville-area gambler nicknamed “Tay Bang” who later called out “bitch ass football players” on Facebook, per a University of Florida police report.

That confrontation, first reported by Matt Head of Jacksonville-based First Coast News on Wednesday, happened on the night of May 28 at the Keys Residential Complex — a frequent on-campus home for athletes, and a hub for those who live off campus but hang out with friends on it — and came to the attention of police via a 911 call from a witness who called to report suspicious activity near Flavet Field and told police of groups of men dressed in black who looked like gang members, and a weapon that appeared to be an assault rifle.

That was apparently the witness’s take on a brouhaha between several Florida football players — including but likely not limited to Kyree Campbell, Tyrie Cleveland, Kemore Gamble, Emory Jones, C’yontai Lewis, Kadarius Toney, and Rick Wells — and a group of people headed up by a person later identified as Devante’ Zachery, a Gainesville resident who told an officer when interviewed that he was part of an ongoing dispute with Florida football players.

Interviewed in early June, Zachery told a University of Florida Police Department officer that the incident of May 28 was part of an ongoing dispute between him and some Florida football players that began in February 2018 at the Gold Room nightclub in Gainesville, and went from jocular to serious. His story as captured in the police report was that he and a friend were visiting a woman on campus on the night of May 28, noticed football players — “about 15,” by one point — congregated outside the window of the room they were in, and said multiple of them were armed, one with an assault rifle and others with rocks; Zachery and the friend thus decided to leave.

Zachery also told the officer he was not in possession of a weapon on May 28, but did have a permit to carry one.

That was apparently Zachery’s limit as a raconteur, as the police report from his interview includes no other details — and, furthermore, the officer writes that “I do not accept Zachery’s story to be completely true and could determine that he was minimizing the incidents that he was describing.” (Zachery was trespassed from campus for three years as part of his interview; shortly after, the officer that conducted it noted that he posted “Damn the University of Florida got some bitch ass football players.”)

That was likely thanks in part to multiple videos taken of the incident and from surveillance cameras at Keys and extensive witness statements from others who were at Keys that night.

Two videos taken of the incident by individuals at Keys, viewed on the night in question, showed multiple armed individuals — one, from the person who called 911, showing people armed with what an officer writes “appears to be a sub-machine gun”, another with a “rifle”; another, from a fellow Keys resident, shows someone carrying “a long rifle” and someone else carrying “an object that resembles a frying pan.” The second video also shows a man running into Flavet Field and shouldering a weapon, and a shirtless man pointing a weapon at Flavet Field.

And surveillance video from Keys with people in identifiable clothing allowed UFPD officers to identify and speak to a quartet of players — Cleveland, Gamble, Jones, and Wells — pictured in the confrontation on that night, all of whom denied involvement even after being told of video contradicting their denial.

The most important statements are from fellow football players David Reese — though, given that Florida has two of them, it’s unclear exactly which one this was! — and Trey Dean, identified as Thaddeus Dean in the police report, on June 1. On that day, Reese and Dean met with a UFPD officer, seemingly in the company of Florida director of student-athlete development Vernell Brown, and gave an extensive acount of the evening.

Per Reese and Dean, three men were standing outside Keys on that night; per Reese, they were asking for the whereabouts of Tyrie Cleveland, while Dean heard them discussing Emory Jones. According to Dean, the players in Keys — who were visiting Emory Jones in his dorm room — then fled the dorms from a different exits, ultimately forming a larger group of football players that then confronted those men in a parking lot near Keys. That confrontation compelled the three men to leave — with, according to Reese, one of the men saying “We coming back strapped.”

The players returned inside, moving to Dean’s dorm room to watch that night’s NBA playoff contest between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. (This was, for the record, Game 7 — and the alleged time of the incident would place it during the first half of the game, during which time the Rockets led the Warriors, at times by significant margins.) But Game 7 would be interrupted: According to both players, those men then returned in those vehicles — and both Reese and Dean said that Dean noticed one of them holding a semi-automatic pistol through a window at Keys.

This spurred the players to first get low to the floor, then to exit Dean’s dorm room through the window, per both Dean and Reese. While exiting, both Dean and Reese observed one of the men outside holding a baseball bat.

Then, for some reason that is well beyond me, the players in question confronted the armed men again — and, per both Dean and Reese, Kemore Gamble ended up with a “laser” on his chest. Dean and Reese give different accounts of what immediately followed that — Dean alleges Gamble yelling “They got guns!” or something to that effect, while Reese says one of the men yelled “Come any closer, I’ll spray you!” — but both players say the sound of police sirens, likely from the cars responding to the 911 call, spurred a swift dispersal from the area from all parties.

Both Dean and Reese also identified the man in a red Jaguar, one of three cars driven by the three men, as “Tay Bang.” Police were able to identify “Tay Bang” as Zachery by searching in law enforcement databases.

UFPD would also identify Campbell and Toney, determined to be the players in possession of the weapons seen on video on May 28, and interviewed them in the presence of a lawyer. They told largely the same story as Dean and Reese, with the primary exception that their perspective was different — Campbell and Toney were summoned from off campus, and came to the confrontation armed — and the minor differences of some other details. Toney explained everything stems from run-ins between locals and football players in clubs and claimed to have tried to flag down a UFPD car on campus — presumably while visibly armed, which, uh, okay? — prior to the confrontation; Campbell — listed on Florida’s roster at 6’3” and 305 pounds — explained that he was last to get out of the dorm room through the window, and had difficulty doing so, and said that C’yontai Lewis was holding a skillet during the confrontation.

Those guns, turned over in June, were revealed to be Airsoft guns. But one was styled like an AR-15 rifle, per the police report, and had some of its muzzle — customarily colored bright orange to distinguish it from a potentially more dangerous firearm — painted black. And so both Campbell and Toney were advised by UFPD that their use of weapons that resembled semi-automatic rifles on that night could have produced a tragic end.

Later UFPD interviews with Luke Ancrum, Cleveland, and Lewis turned up little else new or germane to the investigation.

Cleveland, per the report, claimed that players’ issues with local men could be chalked up to hating, and told officers he came to campus after being told men had been loitering around Keys for hours. Lewis — the lone fifth-year senior among the 10 players identified and/or interviewed — explained more of Zachery’s relationship with players, telling an officer that his relationship with Zachery ended after he spent last fall calling the players “garbage” in regards to their on-field play and complaining about losing money betting on Florida. (Why one would bet on and not against the 2017 Gators is also beyond me.) And Ancrum, identified by Zachery as a main culprit in the ongoing dispute, said he was not there on the night in question and only knew Zachery through Lewis, a former roommate with whom he would occasionally go to clubs.

And so UFPD’s ultimate resolution to the case was referring six players — Campbell, Cleveland, Gamble, Jones, Toney, and Wells — to Florida’s Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR) process, with Campbell and Toney getting their referrals for brandishing Airsoft guns on campus and the other four getting theirs for lying to officers on the night of May 28. The report notes — rightly, I’d argue — that the actions of all six on that night put or could have put others in harm’s way and, in the case of the less-than-forthcoming foursome, prevented what could’ve been a swift resolution.

Where that leaves those players in regards to UF and its football program is unclear. The SCCR process, which could recommend all sorts of consequences, would seem to be ongoing, and Dan Mullen’s statement, issued Thursday, is vague and doesn’t mention even the potential of punishment.

“We were made aware of the incident when it occurred and immediately began following campus protocol. This has been an opportunity for us to educate our players about the dangers and negative perceptions that can occur when conflict arises, and how important honesty and good decision making is.”

I don’t think that statement suggests Mullen is going to suspend these players. But I do think that bit of that last line is important, because “honesty and good decision-making” probably heads all this off at some point before a bunch of young men get angry enough at each other to have a confrontation involving guns — one that could obviously have had far more serious consequences than the ones it has had, even if none of the guns any of the men involved possessed were real.

Honesty with self ought to tell a scholarship football player at Florida that it really isn’t worth associating with the kind of person who makes nights at clubs any sort of stressful, and good decision-making could stave off stupidity on nights like these.

It should also be noted that, sadly, good decision-making probably takes more situational and societal awareness for these specific players, all of whom are black, than it might for some young men, because of the easy, lazy, and racist conclusions some can and do reach about young black men arguing, especially with guns. The police report notes that the original 911 caller suggested that the people arguing look like gang members — and even though that caller is later described as “panicked” by another officer, and that description appears to not have had any actual consequences for those involved in this incident, it is not hard to imagine UFPD cops being on highest alert for potential armed gang members at Keys, which sits in the heart of campus — and it is very hard to imagine that a group of largely white members of Florida’s football team would have been identified as potential gang members.

But, most of all, young men being proud and trying to defend and/or attack and/or intimidate others is a feature and bug of being young and male that transcends race, and it is such a blinding poison for some that it results in someone literally bringing a frying pan to a potential gunfight. And while this sort of blind pride is something that maturity and wisdom tend to buff out, or turn into a feeling that can be modulated, it’s a dangerous thing to have in the brain until that maturity and wisdom kick in — if they ever do.

I certainly hope the players involved in this particular display of stupid pride come away with an understanding of what its dangers were in that moment, and what dangers it might pose in others. And while I’m not sure their actions would merit suspensions from me if I were in Dan Mullen’s shoes, I also can’t say I’ll argue against any that might come down from Mullen — or Florida.