Police on Utah incidents: Racial slur audible

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COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho — Police investigating alleged racist incidents against the Utah women’s basketball team when it was near its 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 in a Wednesday post on Facebook that it is working to determine the “context and conduct” associated with the slur’s use to determine whether there was a violation of law. Police said that they are still reviewing evidence from the March 21 incidents but that it appears as if a racial slur was used more than once.

Police said that they’ve collected about 35 hours of video from businesses in the area and that video and audio corroborate 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.

After Utah’s loss to Gonzaga in the second round of the tournament 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.

Tony Stewart, an official with the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, has said the Utes were walking from their hotel to a restaurant when a pickup truck with a Confederate flag drove up and the driver began using racist language. After the team left the restaurant, the same driver returned “reinforced by others,” Stewart said, and they revved their engines and again yelled at the players.

Utah has said it filed a police report the night of the incidents. Coeur d’Alene police chief Lee White said last week that about 100 people were around the area that night. 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.

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