An appeals court says Washington State University is not liable for a player misinterpreting his football coaches' directive to "keep each other accountable" and breaking a teammate's jaw after practice.
In 2013, former WSU defensive lineman Emmitt Su'a-Kalio punched walk-on quarterback Domenic Rockey in the face after a morning practice. The punch reportedly broke Rockey's jaw
in two places, shattering a wisdom tooth and chipping a molar. Su'a-Kalio was apparently upset because he thought Rockey's poor workout performance caused coaches to give the team additional "up-downs." (In case you were wondering, that's exactly how it sounds: players stand up and then get down into a push-up position repeatedly).
Head coach Mike Leach and WSU officials initially failed to comment to the Spokesman-Review,
saying it would be handled internally by the team. Rockey's girlfriend reported the assault to police.
Rockey filed a lawsuit in 2014 alleging that the school is liable for the assault because football coaches, including Leach, demanded that players "keep each other accountable." But a Whitman County Superior Court judge dismissed the claims last year. Earlier this week, the Washington state Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.
Su'a-Kalio was arrested for felony assault and pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault. A judge let him do community service instead of spending 30 days in jail. Su'a-Kalio was eventually removed from the team and expelled, court records say.
Leach, in court records obtained
by the Spokesman-Review,
wrote on Su'a-Kalio's behalf to the University Conduct Board. In his letter, he said, "there are occasions of misrepresentation that can take place and when coaches constantly preach to 'keep each other accountable,' Emmitt (Su'a-Kalio) took this literally."
But according to the appeals court, even though WSU owed Rockey a duty to protect him from "foreseeable harms," the assault was not foreseeable. There were no signs of tension between the two players, and they never exchanged harsh words, the opinion says.
The WSU athletic department failed to respond to the Inlander's
request for comment.