Eastern Michigan basketball's Emoni Bates suspended as he faces gun charges

Carol Thompson Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Eastern Michigan University basketball player Emoni James-Wayne Bates, a one-time five-star recruit, is facing gun charges after he was arrested during a traffic stop Sunday night in Washtenaw County. 

Bates, 18, faces two felony charges in Washtenaw County's 14A-1 District Court, online court records show.

Emoni Bates

One charge is for carrying a concealed weapon. The other is for altering identification marks on a weapon or firearm. Both were requested by the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

Bates was suspended from "practices and playing privileges" at EMU, university Athletic Director Scott Wetherbee said in a Monday statement.

"We are aware of a situation involving men's basketball student-athlete Emoni Bates," the statement read. "Eastern Michigan University takes all allegations of this nature very seriously. Per department policy, he has been suspended automatically from practice and playing privileges until the legal process is resolved. Because this is an on-going legal matter, the University will have no further comment at this time."

Sheriff's deputies stopped a vehicle in Superior Township at 10:43 p.m. Sunday after the driver failed to stop at the intersection of Nottingham and Clark roads, department Director of Community Engagement Derrick Jackson said Monday in response to a question about Bates' arrest.

"During the investigation a firearm was discovered, and the 18-year-old driver was taken into custody," Jackson said in a statement. 

Bates, an Ypsilanti native, was driving someone else's car Sunday when he was pulled over, his attorney Steven Haney said Monday. 

"That's why I hope people can allow him the presumption of innocence and reserve judgment as facts become known," Haney said. "This was not his car, first and foremost."

Bates cooperated during the traffic stop and arrest, Haney said. 

Haney said he does not know who owns the gun or the car. He is waiting on discovery materials from the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office. 

"It's still early in the process," Haney said. "Like any other citizen, he is entitled to a presumption of innocence." 

Haney entered a not guilty plea on Bates' behalf during his arraignment Monday afternoon that lasted about six minutes. 

"Mr. Bates, Emoni, has been a lifelong resident of the community," Haney said during the court hearing. "He's currently a full-time student at Eastern Michigan University. This is his first brush with the law. He has no prior criminal history at all." 

Magistrate Elisha Fink allowed Bates to be released from Washtenaw County jail on a personal recognizance bond. She said weapons charges are "inherently dangerous" but that Bates is a good candidate for a personal bond, which does not require him to pay to leave jail.

Bates is scheduled to return to court Oct. 6 for a probable cause conference. He left the Washtenaw County jail Monday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office's Jackson said. 

Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit enacted a new traffic stop policy last year that barred prosecutors from charging people based on "pretext" traffic stops. Those include instances in which a person is stopped for a traffic infraction, then an officer asks for the driver's consent to search the vehicle even though there is no independent probable cause to justify the search, but is granted consent and finds contraband.

The policy does not apply if an officer sees contraband "in plain sight" or has independent probable cause to believe there is contraband in the car.

Savit declined to comment specifically on Bates' case out of concern for generating pretrial publicity. He said in an email the policy "does not categorically bar contraband charges based on evidence collected at a traffic stop" and allows those charges in certain circumstances.

Bates' father and coach at Ypsi Prep Academy, EJ Bates, did not immediately return a phone call from The News seeking comment.

EMU athletic department officials learned of the arrest before 8 a.m. Monday, with Wetherbee and EMU President James M. Smith speaking a little after noon. Wetherbee had no additional comment when meeting with The Detroit News on campus Monday.

The men's basketball team was practicing shortly after noon Monday, right as Bates was being released from jail.

Bates committed to playing for EMU for the upcoming season in late August. He has used one season of collegiate eligibility, at Memphis.

"I love my city," Bates said in a statement in August. "And coming home to do something special was big for me. I’ve known several of the guys on the team from playing together and competing. Having a strong relationship and bond with my teammates and coaching staff was important to me. I’ve been working really hard over the years, especially this summer, against great competition to continue to get better."

EMU basketball has nearly doubled its ticket sales from last year, much of that spike attributed to Bates' commitment, Wetherbee said.

At Ypsi Prep Academy, Bates averaged 24.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He started his prep career at Ypsilanti Lincoln, leading the team to a state title as a freshman. He was the Gatorade national player of the year in 2020, averaging 32.4 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.

In one game, he poured in 63 points and had 21 rebounds. In 2019, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, under the headline, "Born For This," with the tagline, "Magic, Michael, LeBron ... And the 15-Year-Old Who's Next in Line." 

In high school, he originally committed to Michigan State University before changing his mind. He chose to play at Memphis rather than jump into the National Basketball Association's G-League. He reclassified from the Class of 2022 to 2021.

At Memphis, Bates battled back injuries, which limited his playing time for much of the season before the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 9.7 points and 3.3 rebounds for Memphis. He missed the final nine regular-season games.

ckthompson@detroitnews.com