One of the longest-serving and most influential members of USC's board of trustees believes Gamecocks athletes have been targeted by the university's police force.
Eddie Floyd, a Florence surgeon who has served on the board since 1982, said several months ago he was told that some campus police officers were overzealous in their investigations and arrests of athletes.
"I feel they have overstepped in some areas," Floyd said Wednesday from his home in Florence. "After talking to some of the people, this is how I feel. And I always say what I feel, good or bad."
Floyd said he met with university officials this summer to discuss the matter. He has had no direct communication with former president Andrew Sorensen or his successor, Harris Pastides, about the issue, but he said both men are aware of his concerns.
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"My feeling is that (targeting athletes) has happened. I'm sure the administration may have a different opinion," Floyd said. "But certainly that's what I think."
Floyd said he had no evidence police singled out athletes, but believes it has gone on based on his "gut feeling" following discussions with people he respects.
Floyd, whose contributions helped pay for the USC football office that bears his name, refused to identify his sources but said they were not from the Gamecocks athletics department.
Another longtime trustee disputes Floyd's claims.
"I don't think anyone has targeted (athletes) whatsoever," said Mike Mungo, the longest-serving trustee in USC history with 36 years on the board. "I think the allegations are totally baseless, and I think I'm as well-informed as anyone at the university."
Mungo said university officials investigated the claims and found no evidence of a police conspiracy against athletes.
"Eddie can say what he want wants to say, but I don't believe that it's a fact," Mungo said.
Since the start of the year, there have been nine known arrests or citations involving USC athletes. Campus police handled six of the cases, although the simple assault charge against men's basketball player Devan Downey was brought by a fellow student who dropped it a few weeks later.
Attempts to reach Ernie Ellis, director of USC's law enforcement and safety division, were unsuccessful.
In a statement released by the university, Pastides said he has confidence in the campus police but takes allegations of student mistreatment seriously.
"As president, I take seriously concerns expressed about any aspect of our university and its treatment of our students. I am mindful of the importance of having a trusted and respected campus law-enforcement division, which I believe we have, working on behalf of the entire university family to provide a safe campus environment," Pastides said. "I have confidence in the professionalism of our police officers, and I will work to ensure that their actions instill in the university community a similar level of confidence."
Floyd first voiced his allegations to GamecockCentral.com, a USC fan Web site.
Floyd told the site he believes Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia was being watched by campus police in March when he and two teammates were cited for underage drinking outside the East Quad dormitory that houses many USC athletes.
He also said he knew of an investigator with USC's police force whose office was decorated with Clemson's signature Tiger paws.
But Floyd toned down his comments Wednesday, declining to discuss Garcia's situation and conceding he knew little about the investigator whom he implied had a pro-Clemson bias.
"One of the investigators that had a tiger paw in his office, my understanding is he said it was a joke. I don't know," Floyd said. "I haven't looked at it. I haven't seen it. But that's what I heard."
USC football coach Steve Spurrier last week pointed out what seemed to be a rush to judgment by local law-enforcement agencies, noting that half of the charges against the six football players arrested or cited this year were dismissed.
"I just wish if you're going to arrest somebody, make sure the guy's guilty," Spurrier said.
Floyd said the primary role of any campus police force should be ensuring the safety of its students.
"I certainly think they have a police function, but the primary purpose is to protect our students on campus. It's different than a city police," Floyd said. "These are 18-year-old students who come on our campus, and they need help as much as they do punishment."
But Mungo said students - athletes or otherwise - who break the law need to be punished.
"Nobody has ever said that the charges brought against these kids were improper or that they were falsely brought," Mungo said. "As long as you break the rules and were caught, you've got to (be punished)."
"When you're highly visible, you've got to make sure you behave - more than the average person," Mungo said. "And I'm sure they're told that."
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.