Here’s what we now know about Oregon State pitcher Luke Heimlich: He’s the top pitcher on the nation’s No. 1-ranked college baseball team, a major league prospect who has led the Beavers into this weekend’s NCAA Super Regional against Vanderbilt.
He’s also a registered sex offender, having pleaded guilty to a single charge of molesting a 6-year-old family member in his home state of Washington when he was 15. Prosecutors there initially charged him with two counts of molestation — a Class A felony in Washington — over incidents that took place from September 2009 through September 2010 (the victim was 4 years old when it began) and from September 2011 to December 2011. Heimlich eventually pleaded guilty to one count of molestation as part of an agreement in which prosecutors dropped the other charge.
“I admit that I had sexual contact” with the girl, Heimlich wrote in the documents concerning the plea deal, which called for him to serve 40 weeks of detention at a juvenile rehabilitation facility. But that part of the sentence was suspended and he served no time. Instead, he entered a diversion program, received two years of probation and was ordered to attend sex offender treatment for two years.
Heimlich also was ordered to register as a Level 1 sex offender in Washington state, a category that characterizes the offender as having “the lowest possible risk to the community and their likelihood to re-offend is considered minimal.” Still, Oregon law mandated that he was required to register as a sex offender in that state when he arrived in Corvallis to play baseball for the Beavers in September 2014. At some point around that time he did, but this year he failed to update his status as required and in April he was charged with a misdemeanor, a charge that later was dismissed when prosecutors agreed that he did not have sufficient knowledge of Oregon reporting requirements.
And that’s how the Oregonian learned that Luke Heimlich was a sex offender, because his misdemeanor citation for failure to update his status became a matter of public record. The newspaper then was able to obtain the court documents from Washington state via an open-records request, because although most cases involving crimes committed by juveniles are kept sealed, “Washington considers the type of crime Heimlich committed to be so serious that the records are not confidential for juvenile offenders,” the Oregonian’s Mark Katches wrote in an explanation of how the paper came about the story when it did.
The timing of the story was unfortunate — with the top-ranked Beavers two wins away from the College World Series — but ultimately irrelevant. The Oregonian published the story when it was fully reported, and that just happened to be on the eve of the Super Regionals. It would have garnered similar notice if it had been published earlier this year, or last year, or anytime since Heimlich’s arrival in Corvallis. It would have been even more impactful had it been published after his selection in next week’s MLB draft. According to Baseball America, Heimlich is the 43rd-best prospect in the nation, though the publication announced Thursday that it was removing him from its all-America team. Editor John Manuel also said that MLB teams already knew about Heimlich’s past.
To answer several questions, it sounds like several teams did already know the Heimlich news; we’re all the ones just finding out.
— John Manuel (@johnmanuelba) June 8, 2017
But going beyond Heimlich’s horrible crime, the fact that he fulfilled the requirements of his guilty plea and questions about the timing of the story, this story illustrates the gray areas surrounding colleges’ acceptance of convicted criminals. On the one hand, there is a movement afoot to open higher education to more people, felons included, and in 2016 the U.S. Department of Education directed colleges and universities “to narrowly target the questions they ask applicants about criminal backgrounds,” the Oregonian’s Danny Moran and Brad Schmidt wrote. Plus, Oregon State has no policy barring student-athletes with past felony convictions from playing for the school’s athletic teams and does not ask prospective student-athletes to disclose prior criminal convictions during the admissions process, the Oregonian reported.
However, Oregon State does have a policy regarding registered sex offenders. Once school officials become aware that one of their students has a sex crime on their record — whether they are informed by the students themselves or informed by the police — they are banned from the residence halls and from working in any capacity with minors through student employment, teaching, volunteer or outreach programs. Plus, the athletic department is supposed to be notified when the school discovers that a student-athlete is a sex offender.
It’s unclear whether the school followed that policy. On Thursday, after the Oregonian published its story, Oregon State President Ed Ray issued a statement in which he didn’t reveal when the school became aware that Heimlich was a registered sex offender. He merely laid out the school’s policies while also calling the situation “disturbing” and saying that “OSU does not condone the conduct as reported.” Likewise, no one at the school would confirm to the Oregonian when they became aware of Heimlich’s status as a sex offender, whether Heimlich disclosed this fact to anyone at the school when he arrived on campus or even if they knew about it before the Oregonian published its story.
Beavers Coach Pat Casey had said Thursday that Heimlich “could be pitching this weekend,” and as of Friday, when the team was set to take on Vanderbilt in super-regional play, Heimlich was still listed on its roster. However, he asked to be “excused from playing at this time,” saying in a statement that he didn’t “want to be a distraction.”
“I have taken responsibility for my conduct when I was a teenager,” Heimlich said in his statement. “As a 16 year old, I was placed on juvenile court probation and ordered to participate in an individual counseling program. I’m grateful for the counseling I received, and since then, I realized that the only way forward was to work each day on becoming the best person, community member and student I can possibly be. I understand that many people now see me differently, but I hope that I can eventually be judged for the person I am today.
“I’m appalled that the college he’s going to would even have him on their team,” the mother of Heimlich’s victim told the Oregonian.