Editor’s note: The islander involved in this story has asked not to be identified in order to protect and maintain the privacy of her son, an assault victim, who also does not wish to be identified.
When her son was robbed and violently assaulted two summers ago — from his account, by a group of Washington State University football players — and left with a severe concussion, an island mother never thought that a year-and-a-half later, her family would feel victimized once again when the assailant was seemingly lauded for his court-ordered volunteer accomplishments.
Last month, an internet fire storm erupted after media outlets Deadspin and Sports Illustrated (SI) ran reports of WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) giving an award for “community involvement” to Logan Tago, the one assailant who the assault victim had been able to positively identify. The press release provided by WSU Athletics stated that Tago had “volunteered” 240 civic engagement hours during the fall of 2017.
In reality, Tago had been sentenced to 240 hours of community service — and 30 days in jail — as part of a plea deal after he’d been arrested and charged with felony assault and robbery in the case. The press release made no mention of the community service being mandated by the court, and Deadspin, SI and many other stories that followed made certain to ridicule WSU and Tago for what appeared to be a reward for completing his sentence.
This omission was incomprehensible to the victim’s mother.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” she said about the award. “A friend at work had mentioned something to me about it, and I just … put it out of my head. Then I heard about it again a week or so later, so I looked it up myself and could not believe it.”
And while she noted that she did feel some relief that Tago had completed his sentence — she believed the sentence was fair — the whole idea that he would be given an award for it seemed unreal to her.
Meanwhile, Phil Weiler, vice president of marketing and communications for WSU, was also frustrated, both by the Athletics department’s handling of the press release and the media’s lack of effort to contact the university.
“No one called the university at all to hear what we had to say,” he explained. “Not Sports Illustrated, not Deadspin, none of these outlets contacted us when the first round of stories hit. And now, Logan is being vilified unfairly, and the victim and his family are suffering distress … all of which could have been avoided if we’d been contacted.”
Weiler acknowledged that the original press release was both incomplete and misleading and said that he wasn’t aware of its existence until the negative press and phone calls began to roll in.
The award was given to Tago by the CCE staff because he chose to continue his community service work beyond the sentence requirement, Weiler said, and they were moved by the enthusiasm with which he embraced the work and communities with which he was involved.
“This was not something he was looking for,” Weiler added. “He wasn’t looking for public acknowledgement. He committed a crime, and he understands and accepts what he did was wrong, but this is restorative justice at its best: He got out of it what anyone would hope he could, and he is trying to do something positive now.”
As for how this has impacted Tago’s victim’s family, Weiler said that he understands why they would be upset, particularly by the initial reports in the media.
“To give someone an award for mandated community service by the court would be ridiculous,” he said. “It’s all just been outrageous.”
And while Weiler believes that the press failed in its responsibility to do its due diligence and at least make an attempt to offer balanced reporting, the victim’s mother is focused on the source of the issue.
“I really feel like this was yet another misstep on the part of WSU Athletics,” she said. “I don’t believe in throwing away young people when they make mistakes, and I do believe in restorative justice. But the fact of the matter is that there were never any repercussions for Tago on the athletics side of things, at least none that were made public, and now … this. It’s not my intent to inflame the situation. I just want people to think. I expect more, and the community should expect more from a public university.”