A Texas grand jury has been hearing evidence that could form the basis for criminal charges related to the death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, two people familiar with the matter told the Los Angeles Times.
The people spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing proceedings.
Erin Dooley, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas, told The Times via email: “I’m afraid I don’t have anything on the Skaggs matter for you at the moment.”
Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, called the involvement of a grand jury “significant.”
Said Levenson: “It means there’s at least some concern about how widespread this incident might be by those who provided drugs, were involved in the activities, knew about them, may have made misrepresentations, whatever the connection might be.”
Skaggs was 27 when he died in his Texas hotel room July 1, hours after the Angels arrived on a flight from California. An autopsy revealed that Skaggs aspirated, with a mixture of fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system.
In October, The Times reported that at least six players with the Angels at the time of Skaggs’ death had been interviewed by agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Eric Kay, the Angels’ director of communications at the time of Skaggs’ death, told agents he illegally obtained six oxycodone pills and gave three to Skaggs several days before the team left California for Texas, ESPN reported in October. Kay said he had previously provided oxycodone to Skaggs and had abused it with him for years. The Times reviewed a series of Venmo payments between Skaggs and Kay that ended last April and did not specify the purpose of the payments.
Kay no longer works for the Angels. His mother told ESPN in October that he was enrolled in a substance abuse program and that he had battled opioid abuse for years. He retained an attorney and agreed to cooperate with authorities out of concern that he would be made a “scapegoat” for Skaggs’ death.
As of Monday, Kay has not been called to testify before the grand jury, according to two people familiar with the proceedings.
Kay also told investigators that two team officials — Tim Mead, then the vice president of communications, and Tom Taylor, the traveling secretary — were aware of Skaggs’ drug use. Mead, now the president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Taylor denied any such knowledge.
Andrew Heaney, Skaggs’ closest friend on the team, told The Times on Saturday that he was unaware of any player that believed Skaggs had a drug problem.
“If anybody felt like he had a problem, and it was obvious, we would have said something,” Heaney said. “I don’t think he did. I still believe that, to this day. Trust me, I’ve thought about it a million times.”
Heaney, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to discuss the substance of his meeting with DEA agents. As of Monday, no player had been called to testify before the grand jury, according to a person familiar with the proceedings. It is unclear what evidence or testimony prosecutors have presented to the grand jury.
Dan Halem, Major League Baseball deputy commissioner, and Angels spokeswoman Marie Garvey declined comment on issues related to the grand jury, each citing the ongoing proceedings.
“We are — and will continue to be — fully cooperative,” Garvey said.
Levenson said grand jury proceedings result in criminal charges “more often than not, but not always.” She said the progress of the grand jury proceedings could depend whether the focus is limited to the circumstances of Skaggs’ death or whether it expands to a broader probe into opioids and sports.
Generally, prosecutors try to establish how a victim obtained illegal drugs, creating a chain of custody that enables them to pursue distributors and suppliers. Three men were charged in Los Angeles last year in the death of rapper Mac Miller — the one who sold the counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl to Miller, and two others who distributed them.
Dooley, the U.S. Attorney spokeswoman in Texas, said her office has convicted fentanyl suppliers linked to overdose deaths.
Even if the grand jury does not return a criminal indictment, information generated in the investigation could be used in a potential civil suit. The Skaggs family could seek tens of millions of dollars in a wrongful-death lawsuit from any party that might be proven to be even partially responsible for his death.
Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.