There has been much speculation in the sports world about why former LSU football star La’el Collins waited until after the NFL draft to meet with Baton Rouge homicide detectives about the recent killing of a pregnant woman whom he knew.
The importance of the delay was significant and proved costly for Collins. The 21-year-old offensive lineman, who was never a suspect in the woman’s killing, ended up going undrafted, likely losing out on millions of dollars even though he later signed with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent.
In the days leading up to the NFL draft, before news broke regarding detectives’ wishes to speak with Collins, the Baton Rouge native was considered a likely first-round pick.
So when Sports Illustrated reported Friday that the delay was caused in part by detectives’ unwillingness to meet with Collins on the first day of the draft, a Thursday, and the following Saturday and Sunday, a considerable amount of blame for the setback was thrust on to the Baton Rouge Police Department.
But police said Saturday detectives weren’t the ones who prevented the interview from happening sooner.
The woman Collins knew, Brittney Mills, 29, was shot to death in her Ship Drive apartment on the night of Friday, April 24. Her baby, Brenton, was successfully delivered from her after the shooting, but he died a week later.
Early in the murder investigation, police learned Collins once had a relationship with Mills. For that reason, police said Saturday, they reached out to him through his family members hoping he would have information that might lead detectives to her killer.
Police said it was Saturday, April 25, when detectives first reached out to Collins’ family. About an hour later, they received a call from one of Collins’ agents, Darren Jones, of the Atlanta-based Maven Sports Group, according to Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
When reached by phone on Saturday, Jones declined to comment on the matter.
Coppola said detectives told Jones they wanted to speak with his client, and the agent said he would get back to them soon.
Sunday passed, and detectives did not hear from any representative of Collins, Coppola said.
Then on Monday, April 27, detectives received word from Baton Rouge attorney Jim Boren, who was hired to represent Collins. Boren told them he had not yet talked to Collins but would get back with them soon to schedule a meeting, Coppola said.
That was the last time detectives heard directly from any representative of Collins until he, Boren and a private investigator met with detectives at the Violent Crimes Unit inside the State Police headquarters the morning of May 4, Coppola said.
But according to the Sports Illustrated report on Friday, Collins made an effort to meet with BRPD detectives on Thursday, April 30, the first day of the NFL draft. The SI report said, “Collins’ offer to meet with detectives on Thursday (was) turned down.”
Police said Saturday they rejected the meeting because it would not have involved an interview. Collins’ representatives told police that detectives could drive to New Orleans to take a DNA sample from him but that the football player would not submit to an interview during the meeting. That would have to happen later, the representatives said, according to police.
The Sports Illustrated report, published online by Robert Klemko in Peter King’s popular Monday Morning Quarterback column, also said Collins couldn’t meet with detectives on Friday because Boren, his attorney, had a scheduling conflict.
Finally, the SI report said, without attribution, the meeting couldn’t occur Saturday or Sunday — the final two days of the draft — because “the police (weren’t) available over the weekend.”
As of Saturday night, Sports Illustrated had not returned a request for comment about the column.
Coppola, the police spokesman, said the statement about police being unavailable was not true. Homicide detectives would have met with Collins any time, including on the weekend, if he had made himself available, Coppola said.
Boren, Collins’ attorney, declined to answer questions about why Collins waited more than a week to meet with detectives.
“I have no comment on a police officer’s comments about an article written by a sportswriter about a person who is not and never was a suspect in any crime,” Boren said in an email on Saturday.
Police said the interview between Collins and detectives was arranged through East Baton Rouge Parish’s district attorney, Hillar Moore III. Moore served as a liaison between Boren and the detectives, police said, after Collins’ representatives stopped dealing directly with investigators.
Moore said Saturday detectives made it clear they would meet with Collins whenever it was convenient for the football player.
Moore also confirmed that the potential draft day meeting did not occur because Collins’ representatives said he would not submit to an interview, only the DNA test.
Several days after Collins finally met with detectives, the results came back for the paternity test. Collins was not the father of Brenton Mills.
As police had said all along, Collins still was not a suspect in Brittney Mills’ death.
And as of Saturday night, Mills’ killing remained unsolved.