The Arizona Coyotes are renouncing the rights to draft pick Mitchell Miller after his history of assault and racism as a juvenile were spotlighted in a newspaper investigation.
Miller, an 18-year-old defenseman committed to play at the University of North Dakota next season, was selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL draft (111th overall) by the Coyotes. On Oct. 26, the Arizona Republic published an extensive exposé of Miller's bullying of Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, a Black classmate with developmental disabilities in Sylvania, Ohio.
"In junior high, I got beat up by him. ... Everyone thinks he's so cool that he gets to go to the NHL, but I don't see how someone can be cool when you pick on someone and bully someone your entire life," Meyer-Crothers told the paper.
The Coyotes initially stood by the pick, with president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez saying the team felt a responsibility to "part of the solution" for Miller.
"We believe that we are in the best position to guide Mitchell into becoming a leader for this cause and preventing bullying and racism now and in the future," he said.
On Thursday, Gutierrez announced the team was renouncing its rights to Miller, making him a free agent.
"Prior to selecting Mitchell in the NHL draft, we were aware that a bullying incident took place in 2016. We do not condone this type of behavior but embraced this as a teachable moment to work with Mitchell to make him accountable for his actions and provide him with an opportunity to be a leader on anti-bullying and anti-racism efforts," said Gutierrez, who is a member of the NHL's executive inclusion council, which takes action on recommendations regarding racism and diversity issues in the sport.
"We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. What we learned does not align with the core values and vision for our organization and leads to our decision to renounce our draft rights," said Gutierrez, who apologized to Meyer-Crothers and his family.
Miller admitted to the assault and bullying in an Ohio juvenile court four years ago. He used racial slurs against Meyer-Crothers, physically assaulted him and at one point tricked him "into licking a candy push pop that Miller and another boy had wiped in a bathroom urinal," according a police report.
According to the Toledo Blade in March 2016, Miller and another student were found delinquent on counts of assault and violation the Ohio Safe Schools Act. Miller was suspended from Sylvania Schools after meeting with court psychologists. The other eighth-grader apologized, but Meyer-Crothers said Miller never did.
Miller, who sent letters to all 31 NHL teams prior to the draft to explain the situation, also didn't apologize directly to Meyer-Crothers in a statement released by the Coyotes after the Arizona Republic story was published.
"I am extremely sorry about the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 while I was in eighth grade. I was young, immature, and feel terrible about my actions," he said.
Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong, who was prohibited from working the draft after leaving the St. Louis Blues for the Arizona job in September, said he fully supported the team renouncing Miller's rights.
"It was a unique situation for me not being able to participate in this year's draft and we were going through a transition with our scouting department. Mitchell is a good hockey player, but we need to do the right thing as an organization and not just as a hockey team. I'd like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family for everything they have dealt with the past few months. I wish them all the best in the future," he said.
Miller had previously committed to North Dakota, which said when the Republic story came out -- and before the Coyotes renounced his rights -- that he remained a part of their program.
"We were aware of an unfortunate incident that occurred with Mitchell in eighth grade. We made a decision that our program could provide him the necessary infrastructure and culture to hone not only his hockey abilities but most importantly, assist him in his continuing growth as a human being which will last him the remainder of his life," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said in a statement to the Grand Forks Herald.
Messages to North Dakota on Thursday weren't immediately returned.