BANGOR – For Judge Jesse Gunther, the hostile message of racial slurs former UMaine hockey goalie Bryan Masotta left on the answering machine of a black football player was a serious act of criminal threatening.
Gunther fined Masotta $1,000 Friday at 3rd District Court for leaving UMaine sophomore Dwayne Wilmot a voice message containing racial language and threats to kill him.
Masotta, 22, didn’t appear in court and pleaded no contest through his lawyer Fred Costlow, indicating he was not admitting guilt, but would offer no defense.
Gunther found the message so horrific, she awarded a fine about 10 times greater than what is normally given to a first-time offender.
“I realize most criminal threats are not on a transcript,” Gunther said. “I will say it was the worst racial language I’ve heard. [Masotta’s message] is very serious. It does need a serious fine.”
Gunther said the message was so hostile that the other two participants in the message, alleged by police to be hockey players Shawn Mansoff and Matt Oliver, should voluntarily pay a fine.
“Voices two and three, if they have any conscience, they will kick in $250. They were participants,” Gunther said.
Penobscot County Deputy District Attorney Mike Roberts said he was pleased with the judge’s fine and felt Masotta had already made steps to atone for his threats by issuing an apology to the press.
“I think it reflects the judge was concerned with what occurred,” Roberts said. “[The other two voices], that was appropriate. They should take some responsibility, although it wasn’t criminal from our office’s standpoint.”
Roberts announced Monday that the criminal threatening charges against Oliver and Mansoff were dropped.
Wilmot and Sean Frazier, UMaine’s assistant to the director of athletics for equal opportunity, were not satisfied with Friday’s ruling.
Outside of 3rd District Court, Wilmot handed out a statement to the media before refusing further comment. He only paused to confirm that Masotta had attempted to contact him to apologize.
“I heard that he tried to reach me. Personally, I don’t know that he’s tried to contact me,” Wilmot said. “It’s cold. I have to go.”
Frazier, who was appointed to serve as a liaison between UMaine athletes and faculty to help promote multicultural awareness, said when Masotta asked him for help in contacting Wilmot, Frazier suggested he not due to the tension surrounding the incident.
Before the hearing, Masotta issued a statement of apology in a press release that read: “I accept full responsibility for my statements and lack of good judgment. I deeply regret my actions and hope that Mr. Wilmot and the University of Maine will accept this sincere apology.”
Yet, more than anything, Wilmot had hoped Masotta would be required to get educated on racial issues.
“Above and beyond any fines that may be levied against Bryan, I would like him to go through a form of education in the area of race relations, because while a fine serves to punish, it does not help solve his problem with racial issues,” Wilmot’s statement said.
Frazier echoed the same wish, saying no fine could serve to correct a lack of understanding in the area of race relations.
Frazier later added Wilmot also was upset that Roberts did not contact him about the hearing and that the criminal charges against Mansoff and Oliver were dropped. Roberts could not be reached for comment about Frazier’s additional concerns.
Masotta, who was suspended from school for a year along with Oliver and Mansoff, also faces a civil action by Attorney General Andrew Ketterer’s office, which filed a complaint under the Maine Civil Rights Act against Masotta for his message.
After the hearing, Masotta’s lawyer questioned whether the hockey player’s hostile warning was racially motivated.
Friday morning before the hearing, Masotta and Costlow said the message was not racially motivated, but the direct result of a fight between a hockey player and football player that occurred at a football party on Dec. 12, the night before the phone call.
Frazier and Roberts said the message clearly had racial overtones.
“That tape was totally racially involved. It was disgusting. It really set me back to Alabama,” said Frazier, who is black and played football at the University of Alabama. “And to deal with it on the [day after] Martin Luther King’s birthday. It makes it worse that he fought so hard and we’re still dealing with these issues.”
When asked if he felt he was a racist, Masotta said, “No.”
Costlow also argued the tape was not as hostile as the transcript made it seem because “there was laughter in the background and noises were coming from what appeared to be a party.”
Yet neither Roberts nor Frazier heard laughter on the tape. Both said the tone of the message was frightening.
“[Masotta’s] was a serious tone. If I heard those threats in that tone, I would take it seriously,” Roberts said.
In his prepared statement, Wilmot said his initial reaction was fear, but it was brought on primarily because members of the hockey team live down the hall from him in his dormitory.
“It was this realization that brought the most serious threat of violence,” Wilmot’s statement said. “This caused me as well as my family and friends to fear for my safety on campus.”
The one point Frazier, Roberts, and Masotta agreed on was that the fight probably prompted the phone call.
“The events were aggravated by the fact there was a fight,” Roberts said. “I don’t think they picked a black man to threaten specifically because he was black.”
But the fight is not being considered by the Attorney General’s office. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Wessler said his office feels the fight has little relevance because it occurred between two white students and was not racially motivated.
Wilmot said he only wished for the “sad situation” to be over. Wilmot is attending class and football practice.
Frazier said Wilmot now feels safe, and he pointed out that the racial threats were the result of the lack of understanding of three individuals. He said some hockey players live with black athletes.
Friday’s hearing drew attention from national media as Dallas Morning News reporter Selwyn Crawford covered it for a story on black athletes at predominantly white universities.
The criminal threatening was not Masotta’s first encounter with breaking a law. A year ago, he pleaded guilty in 3rd District Court to operating without a license and paid a $50 fine. On Jan. 12, he appeared for his arraignment for operating a vehicle after suspension and entered a not guilty plea.
Masotta said he has no future plans and does not know if he will return to UMaine to continue his education.
Mansoff and Oliver have been suspended indefinitely from the hockey team and are suspended from school for a year pending their appeal to the university’s Conduct Committee. Mansoff is attending classes at UMaine until the hearing, while Oliver is attending classes in his home state, Ohio, according to UMaine hockey coach Shawn Walsh.