Sports

Police say use of racial slur clearly audible as they investigate racist incidents toward Utah team

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — (AP) — Police investigating racist incidents directed toward the Utah women's basketball team when they were near their Idaho hotel while in town last month for the NCAA Tournament say they've found an audio recording in which the use of a racial slur was clearly audible.

The Coeur d’Alene Police Department said Wednesday in a Facebook post that it is working to determine the “context and conduct" associated with the slur's use to determine if there was a violation of law. Police said they are still reviewing evidence from the March 21 incidents, but it appears that a racial slur was used more than once.

Police said they've collected about 35 hours of video from businesses in the area, and that video and audio corroborates what members of the basketball program reported. Police said detectives are working to locate any additional evidence and get information on suspects. Detectives also are trying to identify a silver car that was in the area at the time.

Following Utah's loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the tournament on March 25, Utes coach Lynne Roberts said her team had experienced a series of hate crimes after arriving at their hotel in Coeur d'Alene. Utah and other teams played their games in Spokane, Washington, but the Utes were staying about 35 miles away in Coeur d'Alene.

Roberts said the March 21 incidents left players and coaches so shaken and concerned for their safety that they moved to a different hotel the next day.

University athletic officials said in a March 26 statement that as members of the program were walking to dinner near their hotel, a vehicle drove by and racial epithets were shouted at them. Then, on their walk back to the hotel, a vehicle slowly passed them, and the engine was revved as occupants again shouted racially disparaging words and threats.

The statement said “many students, staff and other members of the traveling party were deeply disturbed and fearful after the incidents.”

The university officials said a police report was filed on March 21 after the incidents, and they were working with authorities on the investigation. A university spokesman said Thursday that they didn’t have any additional comment beyond last week’s statement.

Coeur d’Alene police chief Lee White said last week that about 100 people were around the area the night of the incidents. He has said there are two state charges that could be enforced — malicious harassment and disorderly conduct — if someone is arrested. White also said he was working with the FBI.

Far-right extremists have maintained a presence in the region for years. In 2018, at least nine hate groups operated in the region of Spokane and northern Idaho, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

When a resolution denouncing racism and hate speech in response to the incidents with the Utah team was introduced in the Idaho Senate last week, several Republican senators expressed doubts about the accounts or said they were unfamiliar with the situation. They debated for about 30 minutes before voting to approve the resolution.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness