Recruit With Violent Past: Risk For UH

The University of Hawaii’s newest rush defensive end is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with the size and speed to make an immediate impact for the 2014 Rainbow Warrior football team. He is also a convicted felon, who in March 2010 violently attacked eight people with a metal pipe in and outside a Las Vegas night club, including a 67-year-old woman.

Video surveillance at Tao nightclub showed Luke Shawley at the bar over a five-hour period. Suddenly, it seems, at around 3:30 a.m., Shawley went into a violent rage, striking anyone unfortunate to cross his path. Reports of the incident said Shawley even had assaulted a police officer, punching him in the back of the head. The video of the attacks is gruesome, as are the photos of the damage Shawley did to his victims.

Shawley faced a possible 15 years in prison but was sentenced to just 60 days, based on what Judge James Bixler believed was an outof-character act by someone who suffered from an alcohol- or drug-induced psychotic break. Bixler said he also took into account what he said was Shawley’s exemplary military record.

It’s an opinion UH Athletics director Ben Jay shares.

“I take a look at the offense involved or what led to that offense. I think the one deciding thing about his case is that it was discovered that he had (a drug) in his hair follicles.”

Shawley’s defense team argued their client had accidentally picked up the wrong drink, and that drink contained an ecstasy-type drug that, perhaps when mixed with alcohol, led to his sudden and uncharacteristic rampage.

Shawley claimed he had no recollection of the attacks and that he recalls having eight or nine drinks. Night club records show he purchased at least 18 drinks. Toxicology tests revealed no trace of the drug in his system, but small amounts were found in his hair. His blood alcohol level was nearly twice the legal limit.

Jay said allowing the 6-foot-3, 255 pound defender – or anyone else with a checkered past – into the university was his alone, and that a lot of groundwork was done before that decision was made. He said he would inform Chancellor Tom Apple as a matter of course, but that his approval is not required. Head coach Norm Chow did the first level of investigation, and that information was passed along to Jay, who met with Shawley and spoke with his military supervisor.

“I’ve got to feel comfortable bringing the young person in,” says Jay. “According to the people we talked to, it was such an out-of-character thing for him.”

By all reports, Shawley is a beast. He runs a 4.58-second 40-yard-dash, can bench press 400 pounds and squat 600. In 10 games for San Diego Mesa college this season, Shawley accumulated 74 tackles, including 10 sacks and two forced fumbles. He was top five in the Southern California Football Association in every category that matters for a defensive line-man. It’s no wonder he was targeted by Chow. It is also why anyone is giving him a second chance.

Whether UH is taking a risk recruiting Shawley is tough to say. Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, but that does not come with a right to a publicly funded education. And even if he were the victim of accidental doping, it was he who struck innocent people, putting their lives at risk.

At this point it’s up to him. If Shawley remains clean and effective, he could join Colt Brennan and Davone Bess as examples of troubled young men who turned their lives around while attending UH. If not, Shawley could be a cautionary tale of athletic success trumping good judgement. No one wants to see the later happen, but it’s a situation the athletics director is monitoring. Since his arrest, Shawley has stayed clear of trouble.

Jay has set a standard of behavior for Shawley but would not specify what those conditions are. By the tone of his voice, it is clear he understands the risks.

Prior to his conviction, Shawley received a general discharge from the Navy. A general discharge is typically given to service members with satisfactory performance of their duties, but whose service was marked unfavorably because of misconduct.

Jay sees things differently. “To me, it was a less-than-honorable discharge. If it’s anything other than honorable, I consider it less.”

Time will tell if the reward is worth the risk.
Twitter @SteveMurray84