Where the Tyler Skaggs Investigation Could Go From Here
The Tarrant County (Texas) medical examiner’s office revealed on Friday that Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found unconscious at the age of 27 in his hotel room on July 1, died accidentally as a result of a combination of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone in his system. Maria Torres and Mike DiGiovanna detail the medical examiner’s toxicology report for The Los Angeles Times.
A statement attributed to the Skaggs family stresses that the use of drugs and alcohol was “completely out of character” for Skaggs. Revealingly, the family also expresses that they were “shocked to learn that it may involve an employee of the Los Angeles Angels.”
Skaggs’s family has retained prominent Texas attorney Rusty Hardin to represent them as the Southlake Police Department continues to investigate the death. The family expects that Hardin, who has successfully litigated on behalf of Roger Clemens and other athletes, will assist in determining how Skaggs “came into possession of these narcotics, including who supplied them.”
The family’s statement suggesting that an unnamed Angels employee played an unspecified role in Skaggs’s death will invite substantial scrutiny. It suggests that a person employed by the Angels bears some degree of moral or legal responsibility for the death.
While the death appears to be an accident and while there were no signs of trauma or foul play—Skaggs was found without externally-injury, fully clothed and on his bed—it remains unknown how Skaggs obtained fentanyl and oxycodone. Both drugs are prohibited directly or indirectly by MLB and MLBPA’s drug policy. Likewise, the circumstances in which Skaggs used those drugs, including whether other people were with him as he consumed and whether he was encouraged to overconsume, have not been revealed. It is also unclear whether anyone was in a position to call 911 after Skaggs took ill but before he passed away.
These types of questions will likely be addressed in the Southlake Police Department report on the death of Skaggs. Related narratives by police officers who arrived on the scene and collected evidence and witness testimony might also prove illuminating. Those records, however, have not yet been released due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Fentanyl and oxycodone are Schedule II controlled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act. As Schedule II drugs, fentanyl and oxycodone are considered especially dangerous. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, they pose a “high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”
These two opioids are legally available only through a physician’s prescription. Both are prescribed to treat pain but both can be abused to give users a high. Fentanyl and oxycodone are among opioids that have drawn recent scrutiny given their addictive qualities and given that physicians sometimes—critics charge too often—prescribe them. When consumed at high levels, a mixture of opioids and alcohol can trigger fatal respiratory problems.
As the police continue their investigation, their ability to determine the timeline of Skaggs’s whereabouts on Monday, July 1 will be crucial. He was discovered unconscious in the Southlake Hilton during the afternoon. This occurred hours before the Angels were scheduled to play the Rangers that evening (the game would be cancelled on account of the shocking death). Like other Angels players on the road trip, Skaggs’s gameday whereabouts were, in all likelihood, generally known to the club. It is also possible that Skaggs was subject to club rules on a game day. Skaggs, a starting pitcher, had pitched two days earlier and was not scheduled to pitch again for three days.
Skaggs’s Angels teammates, coaches, trainers and doctors are among those who likely have been, or will be, questioned by police. They may have important information about Skaggs’s whereabouts and also whether they know of him previously misusing drugs or alcohol. In addition, the hotel may have video from surveillance cameras that identifies when Skaggs entered his room and whether anyone joined him.
If someone illegally gave drugs to Skaggs, that person could be charged with drug trafficking, possession with intent to distribute or similar crimes. In addition, the family of Skaggs could sue for negligence and, conceivably, wrongful death. Much would depend on whether the person had a legal duty to protect Skaggs and the exact role he or she played in the death.
SI will update news about the investigation as further information develops.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.