Former Redskin ruled competent to stand trial for drunk driving

Former Redskins defensive back Rickie Harris has suffered hard knocks and hard times since his playing days in the mid-1960s, and all of it was on display Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

During a three-hour hearing, Judge Leslie M. Alden heard medical accounts of Harris’s dementia, fleeting reference to hits he took in the National Football League and repeated reminders that Harris was back in court because of his third drunk driving charge in five years.

Never a big man by pro football standards — his playing size was 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds — Harris, 68, sat stooped and with his head bowed during most of the proceeding to determine whether he is competent to stand trial for his arrest in December. The judge ruled that he is competent and the case can move forward.

The hearing turned on that legal matter. But testimony centered around a life led with few remnants of NFL glory days.

Harris had been working as a security guard and living alone. Testimony from Harris’s family and from former Redskins teammate Brig Owens portrayed a man who has gotten lost walking across the street for a slice of pizza and on his way home from work. They said he leaves messages on their phones and then is puzzled about why he is hearing from them when they return his calls.

On December 12, Harris was pulled over in Fairfax County with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, according to court records.

In April, Harris’s lawyer, John Keats, argued that his client’s dementia impaired his ability to participate in his own defense.

Two psychologists — one hired by Harris’s lawyer and the other appointed by the court to independently assess Harris — testified that he suffers from dementia.

Alden concluded that Harris’s memory lapses do not stand in the way of his ability to help his attorney with his case or diminish his understanding of the charges. Harris could write down what his attorney advises him or what he tells his attorney, Alden said.

Harris played for the Redskins from 1965 to 1970. He then went to the New England Patriots for two seasons and played in the World Football League before retiring.

He was arrested for drunk driving in Prince William County in October 2006 and was convicted in January 2007, court records show. He was not given jail time, but his license was restricted for a year, the records say.

In May 2007, he was arrested again for DWI in Fairfax. He was given 20 days in jail and his license was suspended for three years, the records show.

His December arrest came shortly after his license suspension ended. If convicted, Harris faces a mandatory minimum of six months in jail.

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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