Washington State, Mike Leach face lawsuit over football player’s dismissal

Devout Cougar football fans are probably familiar with the three sins Mike Leach looks upon most unfavorably: drug use, thievery and violence against women.

Leach, the head football coach at Washington State University, has said that any player who commits any of those wrongs will be kicked off the team, no questions asked.

But a lawsuit filed last month in Whitman County Superior Court claims that Leach has selectively enforced that policy, and that the university failed to provide due process before revoking a student-athlete’s financial aid — again shining a spotlight on how the school responds to criminal allegations.

The suit was brought by Zaire Webb, a freshman defensive back who was dismissed from the team in October after he and another player were accused of shoplifting at the Walmart in Pullman.

Webb, 18, was not allowed to rejoin the team even after prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor theft charge against him. Store surveillance footage showed he didn’t participate while his teammate, freshman wide receiver Anthony White Jr., bagged items without scanning them at a self-checkout kiosk.

Webb, who is represented by Spokane attorney Michael Bissell, also lost his athletic scholarship and no longer attends WSU.

Bill Stevens, an associate athletics director and spokesman for the athletics department, did not respond to messages seeking comment this week.

The lawsuit outlines three cases where players have remained on the football team despite more serious allegations — and in two of those cases, convictions.

Starting linebacker Logan Tago, for example, was arrested on charges of felony robbery and misdemeanor assault after he and several other men mugged a man for a case of beer in 2016. The victim told police he suffered a concussion and identified Tago as one of the assailants.

Tago pleaded guilty to third-degree assault as part of a deal with prosecutors. He was ordered to spend 30 days in the Whitman County Jail and complete 240 hours of community service.

After two suspensions related to the assault — and outcry over WSU’s student-conduct process led in part by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner — Tago rejoined the football team and is expected to play this season.

WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement recently gave Tago an award for his community service. School officials said he went well beyond what the court ordered by continuing to volunteer with a young boy from the neighboring town of Albion.

The lawsuit also challenges Leach’s assertion that he does not tolerate players who hit women. It points to the 2014 case against starting cornerback Daquawn Brown, who pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault after he struck a man and a woman during a social event on campus.

“Mr. Brown hit the young woman so hard he knocked her unconscious. The female sustained a concussion, two loose teeth and had nose bleeds for three days following the punch,” the lawsuit states. “Mr. Leach permitted Mr. Brown to rejoin the team and Mr. Brown led the team in 2014 with 82 tackles.”

Brown was dismissed at the end of that season for an unspecified violation of team policy.

Finally, the lawsuit points to the pending case against sophomore defensive back Grant Porter, who was arrested in November after his girlfriend told police he assaulted her in her Moscow apartment. She said Porter pushed her into a dog kennel, choked her on two occasions and threatened to “put bullet holes in her door” if she went to the police, according to charging documents.

Porter was charged with one count of misdemeanor domestic battery. He was suspended, not dismissed, from the football team and remains on the roster for this season. The status of his case was not immediately available.

While not a starting player, Porter made headlines last May after he and a woman intervened to stop a 24-year-old man from attempting suicide at a Pullman apartment complex.

Aside from Leach’s rules, Webb claims the university did not afford him due process before canceling his athletic scholarship. After his theft charge was dropped last fall, Webb fought to keep the scholarship, arguing to a university appeals committee that his dismissal from the football team was based on “an unfair rush to judgment.”

In a letter to the committee, Leach mentioned the shoplifting incident but also indicated Webb was dismissed for unrelated problems, which he did not describe.

“It is our consistent policy to dismiss any member of our football team that violates any of the following: (1) do not do drugs, (2) do not steal, (3) do not hit a woman, and (4) do not do anything to hurt the team,” Leach wrote. “In the months leading up to his dismissal, Zaire was involved in a series of events that called to question his commitment to the football program, as well as came into direct conflict with our team rules.”

The lawsuit names WSU and Leach as defendants, as well as members of the financial aid committee: Karen Fischer, the university’s dean of students; Kelly Myott-Baker, the assistant director of admissions; and Andrew Lehr, a senior financial aid officer. The suit accuses them of “engineering a ‘kangaroo court’ hearing with the predetermined purpose of upholding Mr. Leach’s decisions.”

The suit also notes that WSU recently approved a contract extension for Leach, worth up to $20 million over five years, at a time when the university is paring budgets in practically every department.

That, according to the lawsuit, is evidence that school officials are “committed to providing Mr. Leach with whatever he desires, even if it means WSU policies and procedures are not followed in the case of student-athletes such as Mr. Webb.”