Wake Forest University put Jamill Jones, an assistant men’s basketball coach, on leave Friday after Jones was charged in an assault that resulted in the death of a Florida tourist in New York.
Ron Wellman, WFU’s athletics director, said in a statement that he took the action after he spoke to Jones on Friday, “and he agreed that the decision is appropriate at this time given the circumstances.”
Jones, 35, of Geoffrey Way in Kernersville is accused of punching Sandor Szabo, 35, of Boca Raton, Fla., once in the face Sunday in the Queens borough of New York City.
New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Friday that Szabo’s death was a homicide as Szabo died of a blunt impact injury of the head with brain injury.
“Wake Forest University expresses heartfelt condolences to Sandor Szabo’s family and friends following his tragic death,” the university said in a statement.
Szabo, who struck his head on the pavement after being punched, was taken off life support Tuesday.
Jones was charged with assault, according to Sgt. Vincent Marchese of the New York City Police Department.
“But now that the medical examiner has deemed it a homicide, it will be up to the district attorney and the courts to upgrade the charges,” Marchese said.
Jones pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault at an arraignment Thursday night and was released on his own recognizance, The Associated Press reported. He is scheduled to appear Oct. 2 in the Queens County Criminal Court.
The Queens County District Attorney’s Office is investigating the case, spokeswoman Silva Estevez said.
Asked whether the district attorney’s office is considering upgrading the charge against Jones before his Oct. 2 court date, Estevez said, “There is not a set time or anything like that.”
Jones’ attorney, Alain Massena, said the medical examiner’s determination doesn’t mean a homicide charge is imminent for his client.
“Simply because the (medical examiner) has marked it a homicide doesn’t mean that’s what prosecutors are going to do,” Massena, a New York-based criminal-defense attorney, said Friday. “We’re waiting to hear from the prosecutor.”
Massena pointed to other cases, including the controversial 2014 Eric Garner case, which was also ruled a homicide, but no one was ever indicted for murder.
Garner died in Staten Island after a police officer briefly used a chokehold to subdue him while arresting him because he thought he was selling untaxed cigarettes. A cellphone video shows Garner gasping, “I can’t breathe.”
As for the incident involving Jones, Massena hinted at other details that have not been shared publicly but said he is trying to respect Szabo’s grieving family.
“The Jones family send their condolences and deepest sympathies to the Szabo family,” Massena told reporters in New York on Thursday night.
Massena provided a statement from the Jones family to The New York Times about the case.
“It is our sincere hope that this matter not be tried in the court of public opinion,” the statement said in part. “The Jones family stands by Jamill, and his legal right to be presumed innocent in what is, ultimately, a tragic incident. Jamill Jones is a wonderful son and father — a good-hearted man who protects his loved ones from harm.”
Szabo, who received a bachelor’s degree from DeVry University in Raleigh in 2009, was reportedly banging on multiple cars, including Jones’ vehicle, before the incident, which happened about 1:15 a.m., the New York Post reported
Szabo punched a local person in the face amid the chaos, the Post reported. Jones then allegedly punched Szabo, a marketing executive who was in New York for his stepsister’s wedding.
Szabo’s family said he was knocking on car windows because he was looking for an Uber.
“He did not know a stranger. He was kind, giving, loving and enjoyed life to the fullest,” said a statement from the Szabo family, who told CBS News that his organs will be donated through LiveOnNY, a nonprofit organ procurement organization. “He will be missed but there is comfort knowing he will live on in the many lives he will save through organ donation.”
News outlets reported that Jones had helped Szabo into a seated position before ambulances arrived and left the scene in a white SUV.
Szabo’s parents, Donna and Bob Kent, appeared Friday morning on NBC’s “Today” show.
Donna Kent said her son’s death was “devastating.”
“He was trying to get an Uber and his cellphone died and so he just tapped on the wrong guy’s window,” she said. “I’m sorry, your condolences are a little bit too late.”
Bob Kent told “Today” that his son was punched severely.
“He was hit so hard his lip was pushed into his upper tooth and came through his lip,” he said.
He also questioned why Jones didn’t take Szabo to a hospital after allegedly punching him.
Jones was back in Winston-Salem by Tuesday morning when he attended the Chris Paul Family Foundation Charity Classic golf tournament, where Paul announced that he was pledging a $2.5 million donation to Wake Forest’s basketball programs.
Jones, a native of Philadelphia, had returned to New York by Thursday morning when he turned himself in to authorities at the 114th Precinct.
Jones was visiting New York on a personal trip and wasn’t on a recruiting trip for the Wake Forest men’s basketball team, said Steve Shutt, a spokesman for the WFU athletics department.
Jones, a father of two children, was hired at Wake Forest in May 2017 after serving as an assistant at the University of Central Florida, Virginia Commonwealth University and Florida Gulf Coast University. Before that, Jones was an assistant coach for an AAU program based in Washington.