Fifth suspect in Citadel armed robbery case to face bond court

Miguel Starks
Miguel Starks
Reggie Rice
Reggie Rice

CHARLESTON, SC - By Sam Tyson email | Twitter

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Four became five Tuesday afternoon when Charleston police announced they had arrested another College of Charleston student in connection to a West Ashley robbery in February.

Charles Francis, Charleston police's information officer, said in a release Tuesday that Breanna Yastace Bruster, 18, was arrested and charged with armed robbery and first degree burglary in the Feb. 27 robbery of a Citadel assistant football coach at his Ashley Crossing Lane apartment.

She is scheduled to have a bond court hearing Wednesday.

Bruster, a freshman at the College, was transported to the Charleston County Detention Center Tuesday evening where she joined two classmates and a pair of former Citadel cadets.

The other four were charged earlier this month for their part in a second armed robbery on James Island. It is unclear if Bruster will also face charges in that armed robbery.

CofC student Stephen Francios, 20, former Citadel football player Reggie Rice, 22, and former Citadel quarterback standout Miguel Starks, 19, were all charged with armed robbery, burglary and kidnapping of a former Citadel cadet and his girlfriend on Feb. 24 at their Woodland Shores Drive home.

Judge Linda Lombard said in the hearing details provided by one of the victims in the case provided police with enough information to connect the crime with a second, similar armed robbery in West Ashley that occurred only days later.

Lombard also said Francois confessed both in writing and verbally to both crimes.

The charges had been pending since a fourth cohort, 18-year-old CofC freshman Sasha Gaskins, was charged in the robbery on March 3. In that hearing she was denied bond.

In a release Monday, Major John Clark said Francois, Rice and Starks would face bond court at 2 p.m. Tuesday for charges stemming from the James Island case.

The most recent charges came barely a week and a half after the four were arrested in West Ashley after allegedly committing a second armed robbery against an assistant football coach at The Citadel.

'Strikingly similar' cases

The charges against Gaskins, Francois, Rice and Starks came after Charleston County deputies carefully studied the details in the Feb. 27 West Ashley in which Citadel assistant football coach Joshua Harpe was kidnapped, bound and robbed at gunpoint.

Clark called the robbery "strikingly similar" to the James Island robbery, a crime that deputies were still investigating when the foursome allegedly struck again.

The robbery happened after a woman knocked on the door of the Woodland Shores Drive home and asked to use the residents' phone because her car had broken down.

[Read the affidavit released by Charleston County.]
In the affidavit, Gaskins was accused of knocking on a James Island resident's door and asking for a phone to get help with her broken down car. With the door open and the resident fetching the phone, Gaskins, with Citadel quarterback Miguel Starks and former Citadel football player Reginald Rice, allegedly forced their way inside the home.

Both Starks and Rice were armed with handguns, the document stated.

According to the affidavit, two residents were forced to the ground, bound and blinded with duct tape, before assaulting the male victim and sexually assaulting the female victim. The suspects stole electronics and one victim's debit card.

One of the victims was also a Citadel cadet. According to the school, the victim attended classes at the military college as recently as the fall of 2008.

In bond court Tuesday, neither victim appeared, but the friend of the female victim spoke on her behalf.

Deputies said the female victim was sexually assaulted, but that charge has not been filed against any of the suspects. It may be filed at a later date, however, said deputies.

The second victim, a former Citadel cadet, is in a Florida jail on drug charges.

Arrest, criminal connections stemmed from second robbery

Days after the James Island robbery, the foursome allegedly struck again. In that crime, the two CofC students and the former Citadel cadets were arrested and charged with kidnapping and robbing an assistant football coach at his West Ashley home.

Francois was charged with armed robbery, kidnapping, and burglary in the first degree. Starks and Rice were both charged with armed robbery, burglary in the first degree, kidnapping and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

The fourth suspect, Gaskins, was charged with accessory after the fact Sunday.

The four suspects entered bond court on Feb. 28 morning for the prior day's crime.

Rice received a $350,000 bond, Starks received a $250,000 bond, and Francois received a $200,000 bond, according to bond court documents.

The bonds set for the three did not include bonds for the burglary in the first degree charges.

Gaskins' bond was set at $50,000, according to the documents.

Officers were dispatched around 3:30 a.m. to the Ashley Crossing Lane apartment after the victim called police and said three men had robbed him, according to a release by Charles Francis, the City's public information officer.

The victim, Harpe, told police that he was helping a female acquaintance with a car problem around 1 a.m. when three men forced their way into his garage and then into his apartment by gun point.

When the suspects entered the apartment, they tied up Harpe and stole thousands of dollars in electronic equipment, Harpe's wallet and even his Citadel class ring. Eventually, Harpe freed himself and called the police.

As the officers were investigating the incident, they noticed a nearby vehicle with two men who matched the suspects' descriptions. Investigators detained the suspects and determined that the two were involved.

Colleges create distance between suspects, campus

The Citadel released a statement declaring its cooperation with the investigation but also declined to comment on the situation. Head Coach Kevin Higgins said he was not only shocked by the incident but also angered and saddened.

"Senseless does not begin to describe the situation," Higgins said in the release. "Miguel is an only child, loved and provided well for by his parents Michael and Sharon. He has many talents and football is just one of them."

The Office of External Affairs at The Citadel confirmed Tuesday that Starks was no longer enrolled in the Corps of Cadets or on the roster for the football team.

In a release sent to faculty, staff and alumni of the college Thursday, The Citadel's president, Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa, said the arrests of Starks and Rice "shine a harsh light on the college because we hold ourselves to higher standards."

He urged members of The Citadel community to refrain from passing judgment on Starks and Rice until the legal system had fully investigated all of the allegations against them.

Rosa also confirmed an earlier release by the school stating Starks had been removed from the Corps of Cadets and the football program as a result of the allegations.

At CofC, both Francois and Gaskins were prohibited from coming onto the College's campus as a result of the incidents. The announcement from CofC's Media Relations Office late Wednesday night.

"[The ban from campus], however, is not and should not be considered as a finding of culpability against them resulting from any alleged act, including the incident that was recently reported by the media," stated the release.

For now, it seems the College will be withholding judgment against the two students until more information comes to light about the cases in which they were allegedly involved. That means Gaskins will likely face one more hurdle in front of CofC's student-led Honor Board, should the criminal proceedings against them play out in their favor.

However, Francois will not face an Honor Board hearing. According to his lawyer, Peter Brown, Francois' parents withdrew the accused from school after a discussion with CofC's Dean of Students Jeri Cabot March 5.

Brown said in the statement he has informed his client to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation.

Without rising star, football team tries to move on

At the first football practice after the arrest, Higgins said his squad was more focused than ever and the season ahead showed a lot of promise based on what he had seen in practice.

"I think all of this is going to end up working for the good for our football program," he said. "We've had some of the best team meetings we've ever had. We had a great team meeting last night. The great thing is we've got some great leaders in our program right now."

Higgins said he addressed the situation with the team at a Monday evening meeting, but assumed many of them knew Starks was in some kind of legal trouble.

Only a week earlier, Higgins pulled Starks from the rotation in an effort to get him to focus more on his grades. "I wanted him to work on his academics at the time," he said.

The days after the arrests and investigations into the personal lives of two cadet have placed the media relations office for The Citadel and the football program there in a precarious position of answering for the admissions standards and quality of background checks performed before applicants to the school are admitted. Rosa's statement addressed those issues.

"Upon his arrival in 2005, Coach Kevin Higgins instituted a vigorous investigative process of recruits' backgrounds. He and the coaching staff conduct numerous interviews with their recruits, their families, their coaches, and the community leaders who know them best. Additionally, there is an admissions process that all applicants, including athletes, must complete before gaining admission to The Citadel," he said in the release.

Addressing some of the concerns voiced by fans and alumni and alluded to by Higgins during football practice Tuesday, Rosa said the staff and Corps of Cadets would continue to uphold the school's honor-bound traditions.

"The alleged actions of two former students have caused some to question the integrity of the entire Corps. That does a disservice to the fine young men and women who need our support, not condemnation," he said in the release. "My job and that of faculty and staff is to help them achieve the standards we expect."
[Read the full statement from Lt. Gen. Rosa.]
Athletic Director Larry Leckonby said the program and the school were staying in contact with Starks' family, assisting them in any way the institution could.

"He's been a part of The Citadel family, he's got wonderful parents. Kevin [Higgins] talked to the parents. I've talked to the parents. We're trying to support them as best we can, as we would with everybody in a situation like this," said Leckonby.

He called the ordeal a "sad situation."

Leckonby said feedback from donors and alumni has been wide-ranging.

"Everything has run the gamut from full support to full surprise and displeasure with our program. I think, overall though, everyone who knows Kevin Higgins, knows us, and knows the kids is 100 percent supportive of what this school stands for and what we try to do both as The Citadel and as the football program," he said.

When asked about Rice's former criminal record, a fact alluded to by the judge in Sunday's bond hearing, Leckonby said he did not know the full details of the situation and declined comment.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, Rice pleaded guilty to felony statutory rape in high school following a September 2005 incident involving three teen girls. He was sentenced in juvenile court to 24 months of probation and 56 hours of community service.

The Starks family retained Charleston lawyer Christopher Skipper after the allegations were made. Thursday afternoon, Skipper's firm released a statement asking that the community withhold judgment of the former quarterback until "the legal process can run it's [sic] course."

For now, it's a waiting game. The accused foursome remain behind bars at the Charleston County Detention Center.

Nathan Frandino and Harve Jacobs contributed to this report.

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