The Arizona Coyotes renounced the rights to Mitchell Miller, who has admitted to bullying a classmate beginning in junior high school.
The club selected him in the fourth round of the NHL draft earlier this month and said they knew of his background at the time they picked him.
"We have decided to renounce the rights to Mitchell Miller, effective immediately," said Xavier Gutierrez, the Coyotes president and CEO, in a team-issued statement on Thursday. "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."
But on Monday, The Arizona Republic posted an interview with Isaiah Meyer-Crothers, who said he was dismayed when he learned the Coyotes selected Miller, 18, in the draft. They grew up together in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio, and Meyer-Crothers, who is Black and has developmental disabilities, said Miller used to hit him and also called him "brownie" and the "N word."
"We have learned more about the entire matter, and more importantly, the impact it has had on Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family," Gutierrez continued. 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. On behalf of the Arizona Coyotes ownership and our entire organization, I would like to apologize to Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family. We are building a model franchise on and off the ice and will do the right thing for Isaiah and the Meyer-Crothers family, our fans and our partners. Mr. Miller is now a free agent and can pursue his dream of becoming an NHL player elsewhere."
Miller is a freshman at North Dakota, and the Coyotes would have held his rights until he was out of college. He was charged with assault and violating the Ohio Safe Schools Act in February 2016, according to The Republic. He admitted to the misdemeanor offense, was sentenced to 25 hours of community service and had to write an apology to Meyer-Crothers.
"Our scouts were made aware of his history and the bullying incident that occurred in 2016 when he was 14 years old," general manager Bill Armstrong, recently hired by the Coyotes and not part of the decision to draft Miller, told The Republic earlier this week.
"Mitchell sent a letter to every NHL team acknowledging what happened and apologizing for his behavior. Mitchell made a huge mistake, but we are providing him with a second chance to prove himself. We hope that he uses his platform moving forward to raise awareness about bullying and to discourage this type of behavior."
In the team statement on Thursday, he shifted course.
"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," Armstrong said.
In their statement, the Coyotes said they will work with community organizations that support people with intellectual and development disabilities and also fight bullying and racism.
Miller, a 5-foot-9 defenseman, played for the Tri-City Storm of the United States Hockey League last season, where he was named to the All-USHL First Team after scoring 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 44 games.
--Field Level Media