NEW MEXICO — The University of New Mexico athletic program isfacing criticism after destroying a surveillance tape of a controversial meetingbetween its head football coach and the sports editor from the studentnewspaper.
Head football coach Mike Locksley approached Ryan Tomari, sports editor ofthe Daily Lobo, at a bar in July to voice his displeasure with a columnTomari had written. In the column, Tomari had a bleak outlook for the 2010season and said the football program was in “shambles.” Locksley wasthere with at least 10 people from his coaching staff, said Daily LoboEditor-in-Chief Pat Lohmann. Tomari was with a friend.
Lohmann said Tomari felt intimidated and threatened by Locksley, due to hisdemeanor and the way he approached him.
“I don’t even ask questions at press conferences, and I stay asfar away from him as I can, Tomari told the Daily Lobo after theincident. “I just do not want to deal with him.”
However, Lohmann said the paper decided not to publish anything about theincident because they only had Tomari’s account, with no objectiveevidence.
That is, until Aug. 27. The day before, Albuquerque Journal reporterGreg Archuleta watched surveillance video from the encounter between Locksleyand Tomari. The athletic department had invited Archuleta to view the tape withLocksley and another athletic official, according to the DailyLobo‘s editorial about the situation. Archuleta was the onlymember of the media that was allowed to see the video. Media outlets attemptedto obtain a copy of the video from the bar, but were denied.
According to the athletic department, Locksley showed the tape to Archuletabecause he was the only reporter who had asked about the situation. After thereporter deemed the tape had “nothing newsworthy, [Locksley] threw thetape away.”
The university has requested another copy of the 22-minute video, accordingto the athletic department.
Tomari’s friend also recorded cell phone video of the incident.However, according to the Albuquerque Journal, he never showed the videoto anyone, and eventually deleted it.
“We tried to get it for a really long time,” Lohmannsaid.
Lohmann said although the Daily Lobo staff has no reason to disputethe department’s claim that there was nothing on the tape, he feels theyshould have been able to make the determination themselves.
“We were really disappointed that they had destroyed the tape,”he said.
As for the relationship between the department and the paper, Lohmann saidit remains professional, because both the paper and the department both areprofessionals. However, he thinks a perception began last year that the DailyLobo was “out to get” the department, and may still existtoday.
However, this “is definitely not the case at all,” he said.
Both sides agreed the situation has become bigger than they expected.
Frank LoMonte, an attorney and executive director of the Student PressLaw Center, said just because the University of New Mexico had possession of thetape does not automatically make it a public record.
“A videotape isn’t automatically a public record just becauseit’s in the hands of a government employee,” he said.
For it to be a public record, it has to be gathered as part of theagency’s “normal course of business,” he said.
When contacted for comment on this story, athletic department spokesmanFrank Mercogliano, referred the Student Press Law Center via email to otherstories about the situation, including a commentary on the athleticdepartment’s website.
“We do believe that story has definitely run its due course,”he said in the email.