By Nunyo Demasio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 25, 2005
MIAMI, June 24 -- Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor was formally charged Friday with one felony count of aggravated assault with a firearm and one misdemeanor count of simple battery for his role in a June 1 confrontation in a Miami neighborhood. The charges were announced by the Miami-Dade state attorney's office during Taylor's arraignment.
Taylor, 22, pleaded not guilty through a written document filed in advance by defense attorney Edward Carhart. Neither the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Taylor nor Carhart appeared at the arraignment, held at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building.
The charges stem from an incident in which police say Taylor pointed a gun at two men as he sought the return of two all-terrain vehicles he said had been stolen from him.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Mary Barzee set a tentative trial date for Sept. 12, one day after the Redskins' season opener against the Chicago Bears at FedEx Field. But because of continuances -- adjournments of a court case to future dates for various procedural reasons -- Taylor's trial likely will be postponed until after the season, which ends in January.
"I can't comment on the strength or the weakness of the case," assistant state attorney Mike Grieco told reporters outside the courtroom shortly after the arraignment. "The reason for filing was that we had a good-faith basis to go forward."
Grieco added: "I've met with all the witnesses, weighed all the evidence. In fact, I met with Mr. Taylor himself at one point."
Under Florida's stringent gun laws, Grieco said that Taylor faces a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. A preliminary court date was set for July 12, when Taylor will be given an opportunity to accept a sentence of three years, Grieco said. Taylor and Carhart are required to be present at that session. Taylor faces a maximum sentence of 16 years, if convicted.
Grieco added that the charges also could change during the trial.
About 40 people, including a few handcuffed defendants at the jurors' seats, were packed into the tiny courtroom. Most were present for arraignments unrelated to Taylor's. About a dozen journalists attended because of Taylor, who starred at the University of Miami, where he majored in criminology, and nearby Gulliver Prep High before the Redskins selected him as their No. 1 draft pick in 2004.
Carhart said he spoke with Taylor by telephone after the arraignment. "He just took it all in," Carhart said in a telephone interview. "He didn't scream, holler or weep. He didn't say much."
Grieco read the charges in Taylor's arraignment, which lasted only about two minutes. Although Taylor was originally arrested on two felony counts, the state attorney consolidated them into one count after discovering another victim during the pre-arraignment investigation.
"We actually encountered and added a third victim, so he's only charged with one count, but it's for three victims," Grieco said.
Because of Taylor's legal issues, the Redskins excused him from minicamp last week. Recently, Coach Joe Gibbs said that Taylor is expected for training camp, which will start July 31 at Redskins Park.
Team spokesman Patrick Wixted said Friday that the Redskins would have no additional comment regarding the case going to trial. Taylor signed a seven-year, $18 million contract after he was drafted.
Taylor hasn't granted a media interview since October. His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, didn't return a voice mail seeking comment.
Taylor, accompanied by Carhart, gave a voluntary statement to the state attorney's office Wednesday during an approximately one-hour interview in hopes that the charges would be dropped. According to officials familiar with the case who requested anonymity, Taylor also submitted a passed lie-detector test, which was conducted by a private polygraphist. Polygraph results are not admissible in court.
Taylor has acknowledged being involved in the June 1 incident, but he disputes police reports that he possessed a gun and that his friend wielded a bat.
Taylor's co-defendant, Charles Elwood Caughman, 19, of Baltimore, was charged at his arraignment Thursday with one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
According to the police report, Taylor drove his blue 2005 Yukon Denali sport utility vehicle with Caughman into West Perrine, a high-crime neighborhood just south of downtown Miami. Several friends trailed in another car. Taylor believed that two men from the area had stolen his two ATVs, each worth roughly $7,000.
Police said Taylor got out of the car after spotting the men in front of one of their homes and pointed a handgun while demanding his ATVs. No shots were fired, police said. Taylor returned 10 minutes later with more friends, police said. This time, Taylor got out of the car and hit one of the individuals, Ryan Hill, 21, with his fist while Caughman chased another person with a bat, the police report said. After a tussle, Taylor and his group again left the scene, police said.
They went to a home owned by the mother of one of Taylor's friends, where Taylor had been parking his ATVs. A few minutes later, several shots were fired into the home and at the two cars -- including Taylor's Denali -- parked outside, according to people involved in the case who requested anonymity because a police report on this incident hasn't been filed. No one was hurt. Police retrieved shell casings from at least two different weapons, but no arrests have been made. Police consider the shooting a separate investigation.
Carhart said the shooting would be a key part of Taylor's defense.
"They are just blowing smoke when they say that they are still investigating the other case," Carhart said. "I am confident the state attorney's office hasn't seen all the witnesses or examined all the evidence.
"There's every reason to believe the people who claim to be victims are the actual perpetrators of serious crimes. And the state had to choose one side or the other. Hopefully, [the decision] is not because of Sean Taylor's high profile."