UCLA men’s basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill were arrested Tuesday after the freshmen trio were caught shoplifting, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.
Authorities believe the players shoplifted from a Louis Vuitton store near the UCLA team hotel outside of Shanghai. The Bruins are in China to play Georgia Tech on Saturday in the season opener. The players were arrested Tuesday after local law enforcement came to the team hotel and questioned both UCLA and Georgia Tech players before taking the three away.
Twenty police officers showed up at the hotel around 8 a.m. and sequestered the Bruins and Yellow Jackets players in a room for questions “for hours.” According to Goodman, the UCLA players were seen entering a police vehicle and are reportedly no longer with rest of the team, which departed for Shanghai in the afternoon.
According to William Nee, a Hong Kong-based researcher of the Chinese court system for Amnesty International, the three men could be detained for more than a month without American-style bail before local prosecutors even decide whether to press charges. Nee said it is not uncommon for a defendant to wait 30-37 days before being officially indicted. Among those indicted, Chinese prosecutors enjoy a 99.2 percent conviction rate, according to Nee’s research.
Chinese law calls for a fine and between three to 10 years in prison for anyone convicted of “robbing public or private property using force, coercion, or other methods.” The case could also be dropped to the lower “administration violation” rather than robbery, which would lessen any potential penalty including prison time, according to Jeremy Daum, an attorney and research fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center based in Beijing.
“Returning the goods, expressing remorse, admitting guilt and accepting fault and punishment can all reduce the sentence; and with a first-time offense will be important mitigating factors,” Daum said. “I suspect that there are political calculations involved here as well, yes, and the embassy can pursue diplomatic channels.”
Daum added that it would help the players if they do not fight the charges.
Wen Yu, an attorney based in Guangzhou in Southern China, told Yahoo Sports that if “police have some solid evidence like CCTV video and/or the stolen good discovered from their hotel rooms,” then options may be limited. The Shanghai consulate can work on this but if the evidence is sound, there is not much for them to do. “The police will be very careful to handle this case at such a sensitive time,” Wen Yu continued. “Without instructions from above, they will not let the students out easily because the authorities want to prove foreigners are treated equally here.”
“In most criminal cases that I know of, it’s very rare [or] unheard of for people to get American-style bail,” Nee said. “I doubt it’ll be likely that they’ll be released until they either are sentenced or fined, or whatever the punishment may be.”
Among the other factors will be how the players react to their detainment. Officials from the U.S. government will likely be able to visit with them and counsel them.
Then there is the specter of LaVar Ball, who could become a concern, according to a source familiar with UCLA’s thinking. LiAngelo is the middle of the three Ball brothers, who LaVar has built the Big Baller Brand shoe and apparel company on. LaVar is in China with the team and scheduled a press conference in Shanghai at one point Wednesday before canceling it.