Report: Memphis Cops Dragged Their Feet On Investigating Ja Morant’s Altercations
4:53 PM EDT on April 6, 2023
The Washington Post published another report Thursday on Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant's conflicts in Memphis last summer, drawing on interviews with two of his alleged victims. Joshua Holloway, the high schooler who says he was beaten up at a pickup basketball game by Morant and another man, said that after going public with the incident, he lost an idol, longtime friends and, briefly, his interest in basketball. Givon Busby, a shoe salesman, said he spent nearly an hour hiding in a storeroom while Morant threatened him flanked by multiple men. There are some sad quotes in here, but the most illuminating aspect of the report is how delicately the police handled Morant in each instance.
Only six weeks after the incident did Memphis detectives interview Morant about punching then-17-year-old Holloway. When they did, they failed to directly ask whether Morant had produced a gun, as Holloway had claimed. They also failed to directly ask for the name of Morant's friend who had also punched Holloway. From the report:
It would be six weeks after the altercation until Morant would face a question on the record about Holloway’s allegations. That interview, on Sept. 8, took place in his attorneys’ Memphis office. According to a police transcript of the interview, Morant apologized to the detectives for “rescheduling on y’all.”
“Aye, you good man,” said Det. Aaron Avant. “At least you got in within a month’s time.”
Morant recounted to the detectives that after Holloway threw the ball at his face, the teenager “like, pulled up his pants,” which he took as a threatening gesture. “At that point, I felt in danger,” Morant said. “So, that’s me protecting myself.”
“I got you,” Avant responded. “Coming from where I come from, I know when you pull those pants up — aye, you mean business.”
Busby said he never heard from police after his initial report, even though he told them the store could provide security-camera footage of the incident. The police report also doesn't name Morant's mother, who allegedly escalated the conflict with Busby after she'd had to wait for service and he'd informed her they did not have a particular shoe in her size. Morant's mother is listed in the report only as "Suspect #1 Unknown"; Morant is not named as a suspect either. Memphis Police told the Post that Morant is not listed as a suspect in any of its reports.
In a third incident, Morant and several friends and family showed up to a high school gym where his sister had gotten in a dispute during a volleyball game. Police did not bother finding the name of an associate of Morant who slapped a phone out of a student's hand and threatened to "beat" them. The Grizzlies sent an employee named Kevin Helms—described in the police report as the team's head of security—to the gym to de-escalate the situation. Police deferred to Helms, asking him to the find the name of the individual; that name was never provided.
When these stories about Morant first broke, they invited skepticism because of the outlandishness of the events described and their origin in police reports. It turns out that skepticism should have run the opposite direction: Memphis police appeared all too willing to coddle the city's biggest athlete, even after he was credibly accused of assault by a minor. Body-cam footage shows deputies were instructed to proceed as it were no "different from any other assault," but Morant was never arrested. Quotes in the Post's story show that detectives acted chummy with Morant and preemptively offered him conversational outs rather than asking basic questions to clarify the situation. They ignored leads and acted as if known information was unknown. It lays bare whose interests were protected by the police in this instance, and the specifics of that protection.
The story claims that Morant's behavior was an open secret for months, before the Post's reporting helped blow it open. Memphis residents told the Post that said Morant's assault of Holloway was "the stuff of legend" in the city last summer. ESPN's NBA insider Brian Windhorst, as this very story notes, recently explained on a podcast that a "Hall of Famer" called him the morning after the assault to tell him about it, and that the league office knew about it too. Windhorst told the Post he was surprised by the eventual seriousness of the allegations. Of the story he heard on that phone call, he said, "I would've classified it as a rumor."
Morant, meanwhile, is back on the floor after an eight-game suspension for "conduct detrimental to the league," received after he flashed a gun at a Colorado strip club while on Instagram Live. It was retroactive to include games Morant missed while away from the team, and it did not pertain to these incidents in Memphis. During his suspension, he went to Florida for two days. The Grizzlies have already clinched a top-three playoff seed in the West.