Affidavit: Former coach denies pointing gun at wrestler

James N. McNeil

HARRINGTON — A then-W.T. Chipman Middle School wrestling coach claimed to have approached a 15-year-old boy with an unholstered gun during a Dec. 5 practice, but denied pointing the weapon at the youth, Harrington Police wrote in a probable cause affidavit following an arrest.

James N. McNeil, 36, of Frederica, turned himself in to police on Dec. 20 and was charged with aggravated menacing, carrying a concealed deadly weapon and third-degree assault, according to authorities. He pleaded not guilty to the assault charge before Magistrate Scott Willey at Justice of the Peace Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach, and was given a $11,000 unsecured bond with a Jan. 4 preliminary hearing scheduled in the Kent County Court of Common Pleas in Dover.

Mr. McNeil was terminated from his part-time coaching position by the Lake Forest School District soon after the alleged incident, and placed on administrative leave without pay by his Delaware Department of Correction employer.

Harrington Police consulted with the Delaware Department of Justice prior to obtaining a warrant, authorities said when announcing the arrest,

The alleged incident unfolded at the Harrington Parks and Recreation Center at 114 E. Liberty Street where the team was practicing, authorities said. Officers were called to Chipman Middle at approximately 5:01 p.m. to investigate and were met by a crying wrestler claiming his coach had “inserted a magazine, pulled the slide back and pointed the gun directly at him,” while in the men’s restroom, according to court documents.

The youth also alleged that he was slammed against a wall and choked by the coach by “pressing against his throat with his thumbs,” the affidavit stated.

Police transported the youth to the parks and rec center and spoke with Mr. McNeil who “acknowledged he was aware of the reason for our presence,” according to documents.

Questioned by police, papers said, Mr. McNeil responded that the youth was “running his mouth” the entire practice. The coach told the wrestler to “get his stuff and go,” police were told.

The youth allegedly told the coach to shut up, Mr. McNeil explained to police, and the coach then “pulled him into the bathroom,” according to the affidavit. Mr. McNeil then said the youth “began to fight back so he shoved him against the wall and then told him to go home,” police said in documents.

Police questioning

Harrington Police said Mr. McNeil acknowledged having a gun when asked and had removed the magazine when with the wrestler, papers said. They walked to the center of the gymnasium, police said, and Mr. McNeil “advised that the gun was located in a holster in his pants.” An officer took possession of the gun, a black 9mm Glock with a magazine containing 10 rounds, police said.

“The gun was located in an unsecured holster and in plain sight,” Harrington Police wrote. “A black in color folding knife was also recovered but returned to (McNeil) prior to our departure.”

Questioning continued, police said in the affidavit, as Mr. McNeil was escorted to the restroom. Police said the coach’s “story began to change” and Miranda rights were read before the conversation continued.

Mr. McNeil then explained that “he removed his weapon from his holster and placed it on the window sill while he was changing his clothes (along with the youth and a teammate,)” according to documents.

“As he was doing this, (Mr. McNeil) advised that (the youth) stated ‘guns don’t scare me’ and ‘everybody knows the safety is on.’ ”
The coach said he responded “there’s no safety on a Glock” as the youth left the restroom, according to police in documents.

Another youth told police that his teammate and coach “were initially joking with each other while changing clothes and advised that this soon progressed into an argument.”

The youth believed his teammate was being disrespectful to the coach and the supposed discussion intensified, papers said. The youth reported that the coach allegedly “cocked the gun,” the affidavit reported.

The coach was interviewed again and confirmed he had not initially mentioned the unholstered firearm, police said. Mr. McNeil could not recall what prompted the interaction, the affidavit stated, but did say the wrestler said “he was not afraid of the gun.”

The coach told police he approached the youth and told him “he should be scared,” the affidavit stated. The youth then told the coach to shut up and left the restroom, police said Mr. McNeil told them.

An officer asked Mr. McNeil what he was thinking at the time, according to papers,” and the coach “shrugged his shoulders several times then stated ‘cuz he thinks he’s tough’ and ‘stop running your mouth.‘ “

The gun and magazine were placed in a Harrington Police evidence locker pending results of the case.

Harrington Police said that surveillance video supposedly showed the wrestler “exiting the men’s restroom and placing his belongings on the floor. (Mr. McNeil) then exited the men’s restroom grabbing (the wrestler) and pulling him inside the men’s restroom.

“Several moments later, the footage shows (the wrestler) running from the men’s bathroom with (the coach) behind him. (The coach) is then seen grabbing (the wrestler), picking him up off the floor, lifting (the wrestler) to what appears to be the (coach’s) head and then slamming him to the ground.

“After (the wrestler) lands, the footage shows (the coach) pushing into (the wrestler) as he slides across the gym floor.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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