Monday, March 4, 2013

Welcome to Charleston, West Liberty

Charleston Gazette:

Photo from Charleston Daily Mail
Charleston Police arrested the athletic director of West Liberty University at the Embassy Suites hotel on Saturday night, following the basketball team's conference championship win.

James Watson, 66, is charged with obstructing an officer and battery of an officer, according to Kim Blair, a former Putnam magistrate working in Kanawha on Sunday. 

Watson's son, Brian, 28, of Wheeling, and several other athletes from West Liberty were also arrested and charged with misdemeanors.

Charleston Police Department Lt. Steve Cooper said security officers at the Embassy Suites called 911 for assistance because "they had lost control of the situation."

Police charged Brian Watson with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing on foot and obstructing an officer.

Tyler Tucci, 22, who plays football for the school, and Gabrielle Davis, 21, a volleyball player for West Liberty, according to the school's website, were both charged with obstructing. They were released on their own recognizance.

The Watsons posted bond Sunday morning, Blair said.

Cooper said about 15 officers tried to calm down a crowd of nearly 200 in the hotel lobby.

"They smelled of liquor, were belligerent and aggressive toward police," Cooper said.

Police used pepper spray on Tucci, who Cooper said resisted arrest.

One officer was pinned down momentarily after a group fell on top of him, according to Cooper, who noted the officer was unharmed.

Video surveillance was not available where the incident occurred, Cooper discovered after investigating the incident.

Jordan Stacey, a women's basketball player for the school, posted on Twitter early Sunday morning that she received a cracked rib and pulled muscles during the incident. She wrote that she went to the emergency room.

The Hilltoppers' win Saturday marked the team's third straight title at the West Virginia Conference men's basketball tournament at the Charleston Civic Center.

West Liberty is ranked No. 1 nationally in NCAA Division II.

An employee at the Embassy Suites said Sunday that although she wasn't working Saturday night when the incident occurred, she remembered the team's stay at the hotel last year.

"I know from experience last year," she said, referring to the "out of control" celebration. "I wasn't here last night, thank God."

James Watson has been athletic director at the school for 23 years, according to the school's website. The Syracuse, N.Y., native was first hired as head baseball coach and athletic trainer in 1971.

The school's president issued a statement Sunday about the incident.

"Jim Watson is a dignified, well-respected gentleman who has been nationally recognized as an athletics administrator during four decades of dedicated service. West Liberty University, and I personally, fully support Jim," said President Robin C. Capehart, in an email issued from the school's director of media relations.

"Based on the account of more than two dozen eyewitnesses to whom I've spoken, we look forward to the judicial process with regard to this matter."