A New Mexico Military Institute cadet pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor battery charge related to the assault of a fellow cadet that, according to the victim, resulted in a deviated septum and emotional trauma and caused him to feel unsafe at the school.
Molia Tago, 18, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, who is attending NMMI on a football scholarship, pleaded no contest to the petty misdemeanor charge of battery in Chaves County Magistrate Court.
Tago’s defense attorney, Daniel S. Hawranek, argued the Bronco linebacker’s behavior is not uncommon among football players, and this year alone in the NFL, they’ve had numerous instances of fights among players both on and off the field.
“He (Tago) is not saying he didn’t do it, and this does not make my client’s actions right, but it is part of football,” Hawranek told Chaves County Magistrate Judge Mickie Vega.
The defense argued the fight was something that extended beyond the field. Tago tried correcting it in the locker room, but it got out of hand, Hawranek said.
The victim, a former fullback and running back for the junior college football team, stated he was simply following the coach’s orders by placing Tago in a hold during practice.
The defense said Tago approached the victim after practice in the locker room to talk about what had happened on the field.
According to the victim, that’s when things escalated.
The victim stated that Tago went after his neck, and shoved him to the floor. Several other football players witnessed the incident and removed Tago from on top of the victim.
The victim told the Daily Record outside of court Friday he thought the altercation was over, so he returned to his locker where he continued to change for dinner.
That’s when things got worse. According to the victim, Tago came running at him, and attacked him, which resulted in a deviated septum.
Tago contended the coach did not give the victim permission to execute the hold, and Tago wanted to remind the victim of the rules, the victim said.
After the Sept. 9 assault, the victim was taken to the military school’s infirmary, and eventually transported to an emergency room. The victim said he spent three hours in the ER, and had to return at one point due to continued bleeding.
The victim’s nose was still bleeding Friday.
Hawranek argued for unsupervised probation, stating Tago had already received disciplinary actions by NMMI. Hawranek stated that any other form of discipline would be redundant.
Vega sentenced Tago to 182 days in the Chaves County Detention Center, with all but two days suspended. The rest of the time will be served on supervised probation.
Tago was also ordered to pay $200 in court fines, and will do so through community service. Tago will also be ordered to pay restitution, which will be determined at a later date.
Tago is still a cadet at the New Mexico Military Institute. He appeared in court Friday dressed in a NMMI cadet uniform.
The victim has since withdrawn from NMMI, stating he no longer felt safe at the school. The victim said he lost three scholarships, the chance to join the military as an officer, and the chance to play football in college, which had been a long-time dream of his.
The victim’s parents said they have suffered monetary loss as they have had to take days off work due to this incident, and will have several large medical bills to pay. The parents also said they have lost about $3,500 of tuition paid to NMMI for the 2015-16 school year.
The defense contended a heavy sentence for Tago would be detrimental to his future. It would jeopardize his scholarship, and his ability to join the military as an officer in the future, Hawranek said.
In a statement, the victim’s father said he felt the school had let his son down.
“On multiple occasions, we (the victims family) approached the staff in regards to my son’s safety, and on five different occasions, they said they couldn’t guarantee my son’s safety,” the victim’s father said.
In a letter from NMMI to the former cadet, Chief of Staff Col. David W. West said the military school could not guarantee the safety of the victim on the school’s campus.
“While we take every step we believe reasonable to secure the safety of our cadets, staff and faculty, we cannot guarantee such, nor do we believe any entity can,” West wrote.
The victim’s father said he felt the school protected Tago more because he is a scholarship athlete.
“My son wasn’t treated according to their code of conduct,” the father said. “I hope the school can rectify the program, and bring it back to its reputation.”
The military school said in a statement it would not comment on the criminal case.
“NMMI will continue to cooperate with the authorities, but will not add commentary to ongoing investigations or court matters,” the NMMI statement said.
The victim, from El Paso, said he hopes to attend a new college next semester.
Staff writer Bethany Freudenthal can be contacted at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or email@example.com.
A copy of the letter that New Mexico Military Institute staff sent to the parents of the battery victim. (Submitted Photo)