Police: Wyoming basketball player kicked defenseless man in face
Martinez

Police: Wyoming basketball player kicked defenseless man in face

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Martinez booking mug

Luke Martinez

LARAMIE — Luke Martinez sat on the sideline in street clothes and watched his Wyoming men’s basketball teammates defeat Nevada in Reno on Saturday. Three days later, he sat in a fourth-floor Albany County court house wearing a jail-issued orange jacket, a black-and-gray striped jumpsuit and handcuffs.

The only similarity was the black plaster cast wrapped around the senior guard’s broken right hand, an injury that has gone from big news to a small part of a larger and potentially more damaging event for Martinez, two of his teammates, a 14-1 Cowboys' basketball team and the University of Wyoming.

On Saturday, Martinez’s broken fourth metacarpal was the worst thing UW had to deal with. The Cowboys' second-leading scorer (14.5 points per game) had missed three consecutive games due to the fractured right ring finger sustained during a Dec. 30 brawl at a popular and rowdy downtown Laramie drinking establishment called the Buckhorn.

No arrests had been made and Laramie police initially believed none of the participants in the early morning fight would be arrested or charged. Martinez, who stuck around after the fight to talk with police at the scene, was not suspended from the basketball team. He would return in a month or so, once the injury — which didn't require surgery — healed.

Wyoming men’s basketball coach Larry Shyatt deflected initial questions about the origins of Martinez’s injury after UW released a Dec. 31 statement that Martinez had received an injury known as a boxer's fracture in an off-campus incident.

“I can’t say, nor am I comfortable saying,” Shyatt told the Star-Tribune that day. “Because I absolutely don’t have any more details.”

Some of the details are now out. They came slowly, first to police through interviews with witnesses and a victim. Then all at once to the public, through a court appearance and an admission found in Martinez's affidavit of probable cause.

UW announced Martinez’s indefinite suspension on Monday, the day after the Cowboys got back from their most recent win in Reno. The senior was facing a charge that stemmed from the off-campus incident on Dec. 30, the release said. That charge, Laramie police said later, was a felony count of aggravated assault and battery.

"Luke made a bad decision, being out late at night, and consequently was in a little bit of a ruckus,” Shyatt told the Tim Brando Show -- a national sports talk show -- Monday afternoon, hours after UW had said there would be no comment from the school.

The ruckus the coach mentioned became more clear Tuesday morning when the handcuffed Martinez, joined by his attorney Linda Devine, made his initial appearance in Circuit Court in front of Judge Robert Castor. And even more so when an affidavit of probable cause was released to the Star-Tribune later in the day.

The affidavit includes statements from three witnesses who are Buckhorn employees; an interview with a male victim whose jaw was broken and has since been wired shut; the mention of two additional Wyoming basketball players, junior guard Nathan Sobey, who was at the fight, and sophomore forward Derek Cooke Jr., who allegedly threw the punch that rendered the male victim unconscious; and a verbal admission from Martinez saying he did kick a defenseless man in the face.

Laramie police officer Matthew Leibovitz initially investigated the incident, according to the report. He found a group of 10 individuals fighting and arguing. About 20 feet away, a male victim was motionless, "and appeared to be unconscious and bleeding from the mouth in the middle of the roadway," according to the report.

Martinez, Cooke and Sobey were identified among the group of 10 individuals. At that time, Martinez, whose right hand was swollen and bruised, admitted to his involvement in the fight.

The disoriented victim did not know how at the time he had been knocked out, according to police. He told officers he had been trying to break up a fight.

But on Jan. 4, police received a voice message from the victim's brother, who said the victim suffered "multiple fractures of the lower mandible" as a result of the fight, and had surgery to wire his jaw shut in a Fort Collins, Colo., hospital. The victim then told police it was possible he had been knocked out by Cooke, then kicked by Martinez. He provided names of witnesses as well.

A witness who is a bartender at the Buckhorn told police she was working during the fight. The statement she gave to police Jan. 4 said the victim grabbed a male matching Cooke's description by the arm before Cooke turned and punched the man in the temple, rendering him unconscious. Then, she said, Martinez kicked the man.

"Luke ran up to [the victim] and kicked him in the face," the witness said, adding that the kick came "with such force that it made me sick" and that Martinez "booted his face like it was a football."

That witness, who believed Martinez kicked the man with his right foot, identified Martinez in a photo lineup on Sunday, and added that "this man came running up to the victim while he was unconscious in the street and kicked him in the face with his right foot. I am very sure this was the man I saw."

Another witness, also a Buckhorn employee, told police the victim had been "dropped" by a punch and was unconscious on the ground. Her statement, also provided Jan. 4, did not initially mention Martinez as the man who kicked the victim. Instead the witness said she was unable to "key in on" the man who delivered the foot-to-face blow.

But that same witness later identified Martinez in a photo lineup and said Martinez "kicked the victim when he was laying down in the street."

Another witness, also a Buckhorn employee, was interviewed Dec. 30. He positively identified Martinez in a photo lineup, and told police Martinez ran and kicked the victim with what he believed to be a left foot 15 to 20 seconds after Cooke knocked the victim out with a punch. He said Cooke hit the man after the man threw a punch at Martinez and missed. He said Martinez then moved toward the victim from a distance of about 15 feet and kicked him in the face, adding that the blow "looked like a perfect soccer kick."

Police interviewed Martinez about 1:23 a.m. Sunday, according to the report. Martinez told police that the victim punched him in the left side of the head. He then said a suspect he believed to possibly be Cooke punched the victim and knocked the victim out. He told police the victim fell to the ground.

Martinez, who positively identified the victim to police, first said he had possibly "stepped" on the victim's head. He later said he possibly "stomped" on the victim's head. Police say Martinez then admitted that he moved five feet toward the victim about two to three seconds after the man hit the ground and kicked him in the head.

Police say Martinez verbally admitted that he caused serious injury to the victim knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.

The 22-year-old was arrested shortly after that interview, at 2:15 a.m.

On Tuesday, Judge Castor told Martinez he had been charged with aggravated battery and assault under the following definition: "Causes or attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another intentionally, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life."

The judge read aloud what faces a person found guilty of such a felony: Up to 10 years in prison (and the potential for monetary damages). He then told Martinez he could be released on a $25,000 signature bond in order to attend classes as a full-time student.

Part of his terms of release are checking in with the Wyoming athletic director and his defense attorney three times per week, not consuming drugs or alcohol, and staying out of establishments that make the majority of their income from sales of alcoholic beverages.

UW assistant coach Scott Duncan attended the hearing, which lasted about 20 minutes. Duncan told Castor in the arraignment that the Wyoming athletic department would be responsible for having Martinez check in.

And with that, Martinez -- the only person to be arrested or charged in relation to the Buckhorn brawl at this time, according to police -- was led out of the fourth-floor courtroom by police officers.

Meanwhile, UW has remained silent.

A team spokesman contacted Tuesday said there would be no further comment about Martinez or the other two UW players (Sobey and Cooke) mentioned in the affidavit.

Both Cooke, 21, and Sobey, 22, traveled with the team to California for Wednesday's game against Fresno State.

Martinez has a preliminary hearing scheduled for 11 a.m. on Jan. 28.

Reach reporter Ben Frederickson at ben.frederickson@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ben_Fred.

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