A Fairfax County jury convicted a former Redskins player of felony drunk driving Tuesday in a trial that played out against a backdrop of increasing concerns about head injuries in sports.
Rickie Harris, 69, was sentenced to six months in prison, the minimum term the jury could have given him since it was his third driving-while-intoxicated offense in five years in Virginia.
During the trial, the defense argued that Harris’s erratic driving — if not drinking — on the night of Dec. 12, 2010, could be explained by dementia, a condition that Harris and his family believe may have been induced by hits he took in the NFL as a defensive back and kick returner during the late 1960s and early ’70s.
“All the old players talk about ‘Can’t Remember Squat,’ ” Harris said after the verdict. “We call it CRS.”
A Fairfax County police officer pulled Harris over around 2:30 a.m. on Route 50 in Chantilly, the officer testified. Harris was speeding and weaved over the center line three times in a 1 1 / 2-mile stretch, Officer Chris Walczyk said.
When Harris got out of the car, he smelled of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot and he was uneasy on his feet, Walczyk testified. Harris initially told the officer he had two glasses of champagne at an autograph signing event in the District, but said later he had drank two to three glasses of beer.
A breathalyzer test given two hours later put Harris’s blood alcohol level at .08, the legal limit in Virginia. The defense argued that the breathalyzer was not properly calibrated and that the state could not prove that Harris was at the legal limit at the time of the offense, given the amount of time that had elapsed between when he was pulled over and tested.
Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Laura Riddlebarger said the dementia and other issues raised during the trial were a diversion. They had helped sway a single juror in an earlier trial on the same charge that ended in a deadlocked jury.
“It makes the defendant a very sympathetic defendant . . . but it is not an excuse for driving intoxicated,” Riddlebarger told the jury.
Harris, who played for the Redskins between 1965 and 1970, was working as a security guard, his family has said. After the trial, his ex-wife Pamela Harris said the family was exploring joining a lawsuit against the NFL over head injuries.
“If a player’s helmet is faulty, it’s the same as a faulty bulletproof vest,” she said.