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On the Arrest of Eric Kay

The former Angels’ Director of Communications faces charges in connection with the death of Tyler Skaggs

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Last year, I wrote about Eric Kay, the Director of Communications for the Los Angeles Angels, who had allegedly provided oxycodone and fentanyl to late pitcher Tyler Skaggs the night of his death. Skaggs overdosed on those drugs, and now Kay is facing criminal charges.

Eric Kay, the former Los Angeles Angels media relations employee implicated in the 2019 overdose death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, has been arrested and charged with distributing fentanyl, a federal crime for which Kay faces up to 20 years in prison.

In a related criminal complaint, the Drug Enforcement Administration concluded that fentanyl is what killed Skaggs.

The criminal complaint against Kay is available here, and is well worth the read. But there are a pair of disturbing twists to this story, which should raise eyebrows across Major League Baseball. Evidently, according to the government in its case against Kay, what Kay gave to Skaggs was not what the southpaw thought he was getting.

The blue pill, according to the complaint, was found to be a black-market oxycodone pill that also contained fentanyl. Criminal drug distributors often “cut” fentanyl into their illicitly made pills to increase their potency.

“Many of those who overdose on [fentanyl] will never even know they took it,” U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox, of the Northern District of Texas, said in a video statement posted Friday. She continued: “The government alleges in its complaint that it was Mr. Kay who gave Mr. Skaggs those same pills the night he died.”

In other words, Skaggs wanted oxycodone, and indeed some of the pills found in his hotel room were legitimate oxycodone. But at least one of the pills found in Skaggs’ hotel room, and the pills that Skaggs ingested, had been laced with fentanyl. The Drug Enforcement Administration has long warned that fentanyl and oxycodone are a potentially fatal combination. In fact, the same combination nearly killed singer Demi Lovato a couple of years ago; Lovato, too, didn’t know that she was taking fentanyl. According to Rolling Stone, fentanyl is responsible for half of all opioid-related deaths in the United States.

Why does this matter? Because last year, Kay’s lawyer called Skaggs “an addict who overdosed” in an attempt to defend his client. If the government’s evidence is correct, that’s not really true. Skaggs was an addict, yes, but his addiction wasn’t the proximate cause of his death. Instead, he was killed by a drug he didn’t know he was taking.

Notably, in the wake of Kay’s arrest, the Angels reiterated their position that their former Director of Communications had acted alone. By contrast, Kay had previously insisted that other Angels’ employees were aware that he was giving opiates to Skaggs.

The Angels have consistently denied that the organization was aware either of Skaggs’ drug use or that Kay had been involved. Kay told ESPN in October that former communications director Tim Mead and traveling secretary Tom Taylor were aware, but both denied having any knowledge.

The government’s complaint, however, seems to back up Kay in this regard.

The key sentence here is what DEA Agent Geoffrey Lindenburg swears to under penalty of perjury in the last sentence of paragraph 21. There, Lindenburg states (emphasis mine) that Kay “ would distribute these pills to [Skaggs] and others in their place of employment and while they were working.” In other words, the government is saying quite plainly that other Angels employees were receiving drugs from Kay - and therefore knew about his activities. Whether those were players is unknown, but what we do know, based on Lindenburg’s affidavit, is that Kay was not acting without the knowledge of the team.

That raises some very real questions about the Angels organization. The Angels continue to insist that management didn’t know about Kay’s activities, but at the same time, Kay was Angels management. He was, after all, communications director. So if the government is correct, the Angels’ top-ranking communications officer was distributing opiates laced with fentanyl to multiple employees, one of whom died as a result. That should be headline news, but for some reason it isn’t. As a legal matter, though, if Skaggs’ family were to bring a civil case against the team for wrongful death, at this point they’d stand a very good chance of winning.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author’s. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.