Audio recording captures racial slur in Utah women’s basketball harassment case, police say

Players and staff on the Utah bench react toward the end of a second-round college basketball game against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Monday, March 25, 2024.
Players and staff on the Utah bench react toward the end of a second-round college basketball game against Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Wash., Monday, March 25, 2024. | Young Kwak

The Coeur d’Alene police department said an audio recording captured a racial slur being used, and it appeared to happen more than once, in a case involving reported harassment directed toward the Utah women’s basketball team and school personnel last month in the Idaho town.

Police are determining if the “context and conduct” surrounding the racial slur’s use violated the law, according to a post shared on the police department’s Facebook page Wednesday.

This stems from a March 21 incident, when the Utah team was housed in the area ahead of its appearance in the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Washington, about a 35-minute drive from site host Gonzaga.

Police also shared two screenshots of a silver passenger car they are trying to identify in connection with the investigation.

Coeur d’Alene police have collected approximately 35 hours of video from businesses in the surrounding area where the incident occurred, the department said, and are continuing to analyze the footage to determine “accurate suspect information and to establish a timeframe.”

“Not all of the video recordings had associated audio. Detectives are analyzing all of the video/audio to gain accurate suspect information and to establish a timeframe and continuity from the various video perspectives,” the Facebook post read.

Detectives have also conducted interviews with the parties involved, police said.

Coeur d’Alene police chief Lee White said there are two state charges that could be enforced — malicious harassment and disorderly conduct — if someone is arrested, according to The Associated Press.

The incidents became publicized during a press conference following Utah’s loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament’s second round on Monday, March 26.

“We had several instances of some kind of racial hate crimes towards our program,” Utah coach Lynne Roberts said during the postgame press conference. “(It was) incredibly upsetting for all of us.

“It was a distraction and upsetting and unfortunate. This should be a positive for everybody involved. It should be a joyous time for our program, and to have kind of a black eye on that experience is unfortunate.”

There were two incidents, according to the school.

About 100 people associated with Utah athletics — from players to band and spirit teams, as well as school administration and supporters — were headed from the Coeur d’Alene Resort, where the team was staying, to get dinner downtown on March 21, according to The Spokesman-Review.

As they were walking to a restaurant, a vehicle drove by and occupants shouted racial epithets at the group, the school said in a statement detailing the incidents.

After dinner as the team was headed back to the hotel, “a vehicle slowly passed the group, revving its engine with its occupants again shouting racially disparaging words and threats,” the school said.

This happened two days before Utah played South Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Spokane, Washington.

Following the incidents, the team worked with host Gonzaga and the NCAA to find alternative accommodations in Spokane, Washington, per the school.

Utah, UC Irvine and South Dakota State, the other three teams competing in the NCAA subregional along with host Gonzaga, all were initially staying in Idaho hotels, according to The Associated Press, because of a lack of hotel space in the Spokane area.

The NCAA men’s tournament was also held in Spokane that same weekend, with eight men’s teams in town.

A source told the Deseret News that because Spokane was a pre-determined site for the men’s tournament, hotels had to be booked for that tournament well in advance.

Like Utah, UC Irvine was also staying at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, according to the Coeur d’Alene Press, and while UC Irvine officials told the newspaper their team was not subjected to any racial incidents, their team was also moved to a hotel in Spokane.

South Dakota State stayed at a hotel in Post Falls, Idaho, and didn’t experience any issues, according to the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Utah questioned the decision to house the team so far away from the host site.

“As we continue to heal, we remain very disappointed in the decision to assign our team to hotels such a great distance from the competition site, in another state. We will work with NCAA leadership to make it clear that being so far removed from the site was unacceptable and a contributing factor to the impact of this incident,” a statement from the University of Utah read.