Ole Miss officials have determined that a text message conversation published to Miami Dolphins rookie Laremy Tunsil's Instagram account during the NFL draft did happen last year, sources told ESPN's Outside the Lines, but the school is still looking into whether the messages were altered before they were published.
In the conversations, which supposedly occurred in February and April 2015, Tunsil asked Ole Miss assistant athletic director John Miller for money to pay rent and his mother's $305 utility bill. Miller responds to Tunsil's request by replying, "See Barney next week," an apparent reference to Ole Miss assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations Barney Farrar.
Farrar told ESPN's Joe Schad last month that he has not given Tunsil money and that Tunsil did not ask him for money. According to Farrar's Ole Miss biography, he "plays a vital role in recruiting, which has helped Ole Miss land three straight top-15 signing classes."
On April 28, Tunsil spoke at a news conference after his draft selection in Chicago and admitted to taking money from an Ole Miss coach. He has refused to address the allegations in two subsequent news conferences in Miami.
The text messages were posted to the since-deleted Instagram account @kingtunsil in the second social-media incident of the evening. Before he was drafted by the Dolphins with the 13th overall pick, a video was posted on Tunsil's Twitter account of him smoking from a bong while wearing a gas mask.
The Rebels received an NCAA notice of allegations in late January but have released few details about the investigation. The sources said Ole Miss officials expect to respond to the NCAA later this month.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze's attorneys on Wednesday asked a Mississippi judge not to require him to be deposed in a civil suit filed against Tunsil by his stepfather.
Lindsey Miller, Tunsil's estranged stepfather, has sued Tunsil, alleging assault and battery, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress on April 26, two days before the first round of the draft.
Freeze's attorneys requested a protective order prohibiting Lindsey Miller's attorneys from deposing Freeze. If the court rules Freeze can be deposed, his attorneys requested the deposition be completed through written questions and that it focus only on an alleged physical altercation between Tunsil and his stepfather on June 28, 2015.
Freeze's attorneys, J. Cal Mayo Jr. and Kate Embry of Oxford, Mississippi, also asked the judge to restrict attendance at the deposition to only the case's parties and their attorneys and to seal the deposition from public access.
"As the plaintiff has acknowledged, the general public has great interest in information about Defendant, soon to be an NFL player," Freeze's attorneys wrote in the motion. "In addition, the general public has great interest in Freeze and the Ole Miss football program. At this time, the NCAA is considering allegations against the University and its football program, including allegations related to Defendant. The parties should use information disclosed in this litigation solely for purposes of discovering facts relevant to the claims and defenses in this litigation."
Last year, Tunsil and Lindsey Miller filed domestic violence charges against each other. Tunsil said he attacked Miller after his stepfather shouted obscenities at his mother, Desiree Polingo, and pushed her into a table and chair. Miller said Tunsil's attack was unprovoked and that he was trying to stop his stepson's contact with agents. The criminal charges against both men were dropped in August.
Miller's attorney, Matthew Wilson of Starkville, Mississippi, has asked the court to allow him to depose Freeze because he released a statement shortly after the incident, in which he wrote: "This incident occurred Thursday night and involves Laremy defending his mother against his stepfather. Laremy realizes he could have handled it differently, but I am proud of him for standing up for his mother and protecting his family."
Wilson told the court he also wants to depose Freeze to reveal the identity of two men who were with Tunsil on the night of the alleged assault. According to court transcripts, Miller alleged the men pulled Tunsil off Miller during the fight. In previous court proceedings, Tunsil identified the men as a friend named "Zo" from South Carolina and an agent who was attempting to represent Tunsil once he turned pro.
Documents that Outside the Lines obtained from the Regulation and Enforcement Division of the Office of the Secretary of State of Mississippi showed that an agent was penalized for directly contacting a student-athlete from a Mississippi school and a member of that athlete's immediate family on or about June 25, 2015. The agent allegedly met with the athlete and his family without making prior written notification to Ole Miss, which is required under state law.
Through a public records request, Outside the Lines confirmed that athlete was Tunsil. The agent, Isaac Conner, executive vice president and general counsel of A3 Athletics in Knoxville, Tennessee, was fined $250 for not notifying Ole Miss of his planned contact with Tunsil and his family.
Conner and A3 Athletics partner Chad Speck didn't immediately respond to ESPN's requests for comment.
According to Lafayette (Mississippi) Chancery Court records, Tunsil's mother filed for divorce from Lindsey Miller on May 2, six days after he sued her son. Polingo's attorney asked the judge to grant her divorce on the grounds of "adultery; cruel and inhuman treatment, desertion; or in the alternative, irreconcilable differences." Tunsil's mother seeks alimony, $4,000 for her half of remaining personal property in their home and a portion of Miller's retirement and disability funds.
An NCAA investigation into improper benefits began shortly after the charges were filed against Tunsil and his stepfather. Tunsil, an All-America left tackle from Lake City, Florida, was suspended by the NCAA for the first seven games of the 2015 season for accepting improper benefits.
Tunsil's agents and attorneys are investigating his relationship with a former business manager/financial adviser and trying to determine what role, if any, the man might have played in accessing Tunsil's Twitter and Instagram accounts during the NFL draft, people familiar with the situation told Outside the Lines last month.
Tunsil hired a man to work as his business manager and financial adviser in mid-October, about 2½ months before his junior season with the Rebels ended, according to the sources. The man scheduled agents' meetings with Tunsil and his mother and handled other duties for him.
The business manager was fired after other agents informed Tunsil that the man wasn't licensed or registered to work as a financial adviser but was a "runner," a term used to describe someone who gives money and other benefits to entice a player to sign with an agent or financial adviser with whom the runner is working.
The sources said the business manager gave Tunsil a new cellphone in mid-October. People close to Tunsil say they believe the man might have accessed Tunsil's social media accounts before the draft by logging into them through Tunsil's old phone.
Nicole Noren is a producer in ESPN's enterprise/investigative unit and can be reached at email@example.com.