HERALD EXCLUSIVE

Arrested Winthrop players were 'trying to help'

Winthrop basketball players arrested last week say they were not drunk when confronting customer who was harassing women

dgantt@heraldonline.comOctober 28, 2011 

— For a week now, Winthrop basketball players Reggie Middleton and Gideon Gamble have existed as names in a police report, abstract examples of a program some believe has gone wrong and objects of anonymous online scorn.

But Thursday night - a week removed from their arrests on misdemeanor disorderly conduct-fighting charges - the two players sat down after practice and told The Herald their version of the story.

"At first, everyone was looking down on us," Gamble said of the early Friday morning incident at the McDonald's across Cherry Road from the Winthrop University campus. "But I think once we tell our side, people might be a little more understanding."

Middleton and Gamble spoke alongside their attorney, former State Law Enforcement Division director and Winthrop graduate Reggie Lloyd, after receiving permission from school officials to talk about the incident.

The players say they were defending the honor of a group of women who were being harassed by another McDonald's customer before Rock Hill police officers arrived with Tasers to break up a fight.

But their version offered a number of differences to the police incident report, and Lloyd said he thinks the two "have an excellent defense" if the case ends up going to trial.

"My mom always taught me to never hit a woman," Middleton said. "And I have four sisters, so that's what made me act the way I did."

Asked what they were doing at McDonald's at 2:45 a.m. before a scheduled 6 a.m. practice, Middleton laughed and shook his head.

"I don't know man," he said. "We were just hungry."

Gamble and Middleton told details they said better explained what happened:

The police report indicated that the players had been drinking. The 21-year-olds said they had one drink each at a fraternity party that had just broken up, leading to a crowded scene at the McDonald's.

"We were not drunk at all," Middleton said, and Gamble added: "Definitely not, no."

As Middleton moved to the counter to place his order, a group entered behind them, and one man became immediately abusive.

"This group came in, and one of them was being extra loud and obnoxious," Gamble said. "They started to get in a conversation with a group of young ladies, and then the one guy got really loud and started threatening them.

"When he stepped toward them with his hands up, that's when I approached. My exact words to him were, 'Chill out man; these are females.'"

Gamble said the man and one of the women exchanged heated words before "he stepped to her with his hands up like he was going fight her like she was a man."

That, Gamble said, was when he was pushed from behind.

"I immediately went to self-defense," he said.

Efforts to reach Tyvonne Dunham, 22, of Rock Hill, the third person charged with disorderly conduct-fighting, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Moments later, two Rock Hill police officers - one an off-duty contract security officer hired by McDonald's and another called to the scene - entered to break up the fight.

Neither player said he heard anyone announce they were officers or try to break it up.

The next thing Middleton said he felt was a pulse of electricity from a Taser, and he fell against a table.

"Everything was happening so fast," Middleton said. "But it wasn't like the police were announcing anything or trying to break it up. I got Tased from long distance, because I didn't see where it came from.

"The next thing I know, I'm being electrocuted on a table."

Gamble said he was hit in the leg, "and I couldn't hear anything, I couldn't move." But when he saw the "string" which sent the shock into his leg, he said he pulled it out and ran outside to try to get away from the scene.

That's when he said he was approached by another member of the other group of men, who "came at me swinging."

"I ran out looking for the people I came with," Gamble said. "Then a dude tried to punch me and I went to self-defense.

"When the police came around and tried to Tase me again, that's when I surrendered."

At that point, Lloyd said, McDonald's employees - all of whom have declined to comment - tried to tell officers that Middleton and Gamble weren't the aggressors.

But the officers handcuffed them and placed them under arrest.

Lt. Brad Redfearn, Rock Hill police spokesman, declined to comment on the players' version of the incident.

"When our officers arrived on scene, they observed the suspects fighting," Redfearn said. "They tried to break the fight up, and when they were unable to do so, they deployed Tasers to get the suspects to comply with the officers' demands.

"The officers had probable cause to make the arrests of the three suspects."

Lloyd said he was upset by anonymous comments on stories posted at heraldonline.com and on message boards, some of which he described as "vile, vicious and sometimes racist."

"It was very disappointing to me to hear some of that," Middleton said. "Because I'm nowhere near a thug. I felt like getting involved was the right thing to do. I've never heard of a person being punished for defending a young lady.

"On campus, people who know what happened have come up and thanked us. We feel bad for letting people down and bringing negative attention to the program, but we were just trying to help a young lady out."

The players - Middleton is a four-year starter at point guard; Gamble is a red-shirt junior small forward - have been suspended from the team's Nov. 5 exhibition opener against St. Andrews. They still face the criminal charges, as well as the student judicial process.

Lloyd said he looks forward to talking with police and the city solicitor's office about the case, and he is prepared to go to trial if need be.

"The publicity can only be one-sided for so long, before it's hard to walk it back," Lloyd said. "That's why it's so important for me to get their side out there. These are very good young men, and there's a very different image of what happened that night when you put it in the proper context.

"As a dad, I would like to think if my child was in that situation that someone would intervene.

"These two young men put themselves at great risk. Luckily, this ended in a fight. Things have changed in this culture, and it could have been much worse. But with that as a backdrop, they still stood up, and they did so at their own personal risk."

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