UPDATE 2, Friday, March 25, 9:35 a.m.: The circumstances that led to Casto's arrest have now come to light, thanks to Bud Withers of The Seattle Times. Withers interviewed Chris Tennant, operations commander for the Pullman police. Tennant says that an officer was patrolling off-campus when he noticed a screen missing from Casto's ground-level window. Since there had been a recent spate of robberies in which window screens were removed, the officer went in for a closer look. That's when the cop spied Casto in the bedroom rolling a joint. The officer proceeded to the front door and promptly issued Casto a citation for misdemeanor possession. Casto's attorney says the officer violated his client's right to due process, and asks, "Is that what we should be doing at 1 o'clock in the morning, looking in windows and seeking warrants?"
That version of events was almost identical to rumors that were trickling out of the Pullman campus on Wednesday afternoon, only then the details seemed too absurd to be true. After all, as Casto's attorney asks, is it really worthwhile for cops to go tip-toeing around private residences in the middle of the night, peering in people's windows to see if they're getting high? Is that what "to serve and protect" has come to mean?
The other important question here is how will the pot arrests of WSU's three best players affect recruiting in the coming year? It sure seems like a lose-lose for coach Ken Bone. As Withers points out, if the Cougars are trying to woo parents and players with the pitch that they run a disciplined program, three high-profile incidents, to which opposing coaches can point, will contradict that. Meanwhile, players who might otherwise be attracted to a school that turns a blind eye toward pot-smoking are left wondering if they're going to be the next victim of an overzealous police department.
And really, it's that last group the Cougar faithful should be worried about losing. As if the cases of Casto, Thompson, and Moore weren't evidence enough that a significant number of college basketball players get high,take a look at the NBA. As High Times once famously put it, "marijuana has long been as much a part of the NBA as the nothing-but-net three-pointer."
The percentage of pro players who toke has been estimated as high as 70 percent (by The New York Times in 1997) and as low as 30 percent (from a survey of players published in the Rocky Mountain News in 2005.) The figures are probably the same, if not greater, in the NCAA, since the demographics include a slightly younger crowd that lives on college campuses, where it can be easier to find a good weed dealer than a good math tutor.
The bottom line is that something in Pullman has got to give. Either the coach lays down the law and issues long-term suspensions or dismissals for pot-smoking players, or Pullman police realize they endear themselves to almost no one--least of all WSU students--when they enforce a zero-tolerance policy on misdemeanor marijuana possession.
UPDATE 4:12 p.m.: The Spokesman-Review reports that Casto's suspension has been rescinded by WSU athletic director Bill Moos, and the power forward will play tonight against Northwestern in the NIT. Moos explained the decision by saying, "There are unique circumstances involving this matter and I feel the appropriate avenue to take is to allow the legal system to run its course before we consider further action."
The first time, when starting point guard Reggie Moore was busted for misdemeanor pot and paraphernalia possession back in early January, nobody thought much of it. The second time, in early March when the basketball team's star Klay Thompson was pulled over near the school's Greek Row for having a headlight out and was caught with less than two grams of weed, it could be chalked up to bad luck and coincidence. But now there's been a third mid-season arrest for the Cougars, with starting power forward DeAngelo Casto reportedly charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, and it raises the question: What are the Pullman police smoking?
The details are still sketchy in Casto's case, but according to unnamed sources cited in the Spokesman-Review, Pullman police searched Casto's off-campus apartment at 1:20 a.m. Tuesday morning. He was subsequently cited for possession of less than 40 grams of pot. Like his two teammates before him, Casto will be suspended for one game, in this case the quarterfinals of the NIT tournament.
What brought the Pullman cops to an off-campus apartment so early on a Tuesday morning? Why did they feel the need to enter the residence and root around for a small stash of weed? What kind of small college-town police department arrests the basketball team's three best players mid-season for petty pot possession?
Obviously, the answers to some of those questions are forthcoming. Others, like that last one, probably are not. Pullman Police Department spokesman Chris Tennant told the Spokesman-Review that the officers who conducted the search didn't want to give Casto "preferential treatment," and so he was cited as soon as possible. But the circumstances surrounding the arrests of Casto and his teammates smack of the exact opposite of preferential treatment--discrimination.
All three athletes are African-American in a town and school that are overwhelmingly Caucasian. How many times are Pullman police called to an off-campus kegger only to issue a warning to the party attendees? The trio of basketball stars certainly aren't the only students at WSU indulging in a little herb; how often do the cops simply confiscate pot and let other kids walk away with a clean record? Officially, probably never. Unofficially, ask a friend or colleague who went to WSU and they'll likely tell a different story.
For staunch UW supporters such as myself, the pot plight of WSU's basketball team is somewhat amusing. If these guys had been caught doing the same thing in Seattle, either police would have let them off the hook or prosecutors would have declined to file charges. There are two different sets of laws in play in Washington right now. And although WSU Coach Ken Bone issued an official statement saying Casto "let himself and his teammates down," he knows that the power forward was playing as hard as possible, and that he is a big reason the Cougars are in the postseason.
One would assume that the Pullman cops don't care much for basketball, and instead prefer to give free passes to the football team. But they also arrested two football players this past October and charged them with felonies for growing 38 pot plants in their apartment. A month later, two baseball players were also charged with misdemeanor pot possession. So perhaps the Pullman police do indeed apply justice evenhandedly as they wage the War on Drugs. But it's doubtful that many WSU fans are pleased that the casualties are otherwise upstanding student-athletes.