Suspect Charged In USF Football Player's Death
UPDATED AT 9/10 12:30 AM with details on arrest of suspect and Judy Genshaft's comments.
Tampa Police announced that a 23-year-old man is being charged in an incident that left former University of South Florida football player Elkino Watson dead and current USF student Desmond Horne injured.
Randolph Graham, 23, turned himself in at Tampa Police headquarters Wednesday night. Graham, who was joined by his lawyer, will be charged with second-degree murder with a weapon and attempted murder with a weapon, police said.
Witness reports say that Watson and Horne got involved in a fight with Graham Sunday night after a man approached a woman Watson knew inside the Orpheum nightclub.
According to a Tampa Police statement, the man asked the woman for her phone number, and when she refused, he allegedly punched her.
Police say Watson and Graham spoke later outside the bar, and a fight started. Witnesses told police that Graham had a knife and was seen stabbing Watson. Horne, who had been fighting with another person, also was stabbed by Graham, police said.
The arrest came just a day after Watson's former teammates held a private vigil and USF athletic officials faced questions about their response to the weekend's events.
"There's nothing worse in this business (than) to lose a young person," USF Athletic Director Mark Harlan said at a Tuesday press conference. "Elkino had left us, but he was close (with the team), he was behind the bench (at Saturday night's game vs. Florida A&M), and a lot of our guys got to spend time with him."
The incident happened at what the Orpheum called the "official" after party for the game, which USF won 51-3. USF officials said it was not a sanctioned university event.
Watson, 22, was a four year letterman, playing for USF from 2011 to 2014. He had been invited to the Chicago Bears training camp, but returned to Tampa after being cut. Harlan indicated Watson had recently found a job in Tampa and was planning on returning to USF to complete his degree.
Horne, a biology major who tried out for the football team this past spring, sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the incident and remains hospitalized in stable condition.
On Tuesday, USF head football coach Willie Taggart paused to collect his thoughts while speaking about how Watson's former teammates are dealing with the tragedy.
"Our guys are crushed, they were hurt bad," he said. "As a coach and a father, I mean, there's no plan for anything like this to just make it go in a sweet, smooth path through this, you just got to talk to our guys - we've got to lean on each other and stick with each other and get through this together as a team."
"Our guys have been resilient, they've been awesome, they've handled it better than I thought they would," he added, saying that members of the team's leadership council decided to hold a private memorial service Tuesday evening for Watson. The team will also wear a sticker bearing Watson's No. 53 on their helmets for the remainder of the season, starting this Saturday against Florida State University in Tallahassee.
"They're focused, they're locked in, they've been that way since December, they've been locked in, I think those guys are going to go play well together, they're going to play together and play for each other, and play with Elkino in their hearts, heavily," Taggart said.
But even as Taggart spoke of his team's emotional state, questions remained about the coach's decision to ban players from visiting Ybor City in the future, and Harlan's overturning of that ban a short time later.
Taggart said he made the announcement in response to a question about Watson's death during a regularly scheduled conference call with reporters Monday afternoon.
"Our guys had played well on Saturday and I was finally fired up about it," he said. "I got asked about the situation...and I should have been more specific with my response, rather than just saying 'Ybor' because Ybor's a great place, my family...we go and have a good time, so I should have been more specific about my answer rather than just banning them."
Harlan said he heard about the ban a short time later from Richard Gonzmart, president and CEO of Ybor's legendary Columbia Restaurant and an USF athletic backer. Harlan said the decision to rescind Taggart's order was entirely his.
"I called (Taggart) on the phone and I told him that I disagree with what he said, that's not my belief in how we run the department," Harlan said. "We're in a higher education setting where we teach, and it was important for him to understand that. We had a great talk as we always do, he and I are extremely close on so many different things and we talked it through."
Both Harlan and Taggart agreed that the event serves as a reminder to students to stay aware of their surroundings and try to avoid possibly dangerous situations.
"We teach about behavior, and we teach about reminding all of them, whether you're a football player or any student-athlete, that you have a responsibility to make sure that you recognize situations that you're in and you get out of those situations," Harlan said.
"It was no offense to anyone or any place," Taggart said. "We're just going to continue to teach our guys to do right because I for one don't want to make that call to any parent and tell them that their kid is not here anymore."
USF System President Judy Genshaft spoke about the incident and the aftermath Wednesday afternoon following her annual fall address.
"We care about student safety as our number one issue - we really care about what students are doing and how they're conducting themselves and making sure that they're safe," Genshaft said. "My heart goes out to the Watson and Horne families."
And addressing the Harlan-Taggart discussion, Genshaft added, "Emotions were flying, a lot of things were said, we need to all come together."