By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 2, 2006
MIAMI, June 1 -- Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor's yearlong legal saga ended Thursday when he entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery charges in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, but the NFL said he still faces a possible suspension or fine as a result of the case.
The plea agreement included the dismissal of felony assault charges and no prison time for Taylor, and seemed to represent an extremely favorable outcome in a case in which Taylor faced up to 46 years in prison as a result of his arrest last June after a street fight in a depressed part of Miami. But Taylor, who appeared in court in a tan pinstriped suit and open-neck dress shirt, told Judge Leonard Glick in a crowded courtroom that he accepted the deal reluctantly.
"This is obviously something that's kind of a hard pill for me to swallow," Taylor, 23, said near the end of the 30-minute hearing after indicating to the judge that he wanted to make a statement. "This is not something I think I'm guilty of, [but] so I can move on with my life, and everyone can move on with theirs . . . I accept this."
With the resolution of Taylor's legal case, the issue now will be taken up by the NFL. "It will be reviewed for possible discipline under the terms of the league's personal conduct policy," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations. Under the policy, a player who is convicted of a crime or pleads guilty to one can be disciplined at the discretion of the commissioner.
The Redskins plan no disciplinary action against Taylor and will welcome him back to the team next week, a team spokesman said. "We are glad Sean's situation seems to be working toward a conclusion," Coach Joe Gibbs said in a statement.
Richard Sharpstein, Taylor's lead attorney, said he discussed the plea deal with NFL general counsel Dennis Curran, who indicated that similar cases have resulted in fines and one- or two-game suspensions. Sharpstein said he intended to fax the plea deal to the NFL on Thursday. "We hope they take action quickly -- or not take action quickly," he said.
In addition to the no-contest pleas, Taylor agreed to visit 10 schools in the Miami area over the next 18 months and speak to students about the importance of maintaining self-control and furthering their education. He also agreed to donate a $1,000 educational scholarship to one student at each school and pay $429 in court costs.
"I think this will help me reach some kids and show them this is not the way to be," Taylor said after the hearing. "I've got to educate some kids."
Sharpstein said Taylor flew to Miami over Memorial Day weekend when he learned prosecutor Abe Laeser wanted to meet with Taylor's defense team to discuss the case this week. Taylor, who was accompanied to court by his father, Pedro Taylor, the chief of police in Florida City, Fla., will remain in Miami with family through the weekend before joining the Redskins for workouts next week, Sharpstein said.
"He's going to go back and do his job and intercept footballs for the Redskins," said Sharpstein, a partner with the Washington-based firm Jorden Burt.
In brief comments to reporters after the hearing, Taylor said weathering the mental strain of the case was "not hard at all." He said the deal was "in the best interest of my family, my friends, me and my team and for what I have to do."
Taylor had been accused of brandishing a gun, making threats and initiating a street fight on June 1 of last year with a group of people he believed were responsible for the theft of his two all-terrain vehicles out of a neighbor's driveway. After Taylor retreated from the fight, his blue GMC Yukon Denali was sprayed with gunfire while it was parked in a neighbor's driveway.
No charges were filed in the shooting incident, but Taylor was charged days later with one count of misdemeanor battery and one count of felony assault with a weapon. The felony charge was tripled in January with the addition of two additional victims to the case, raising the maximum prison time he faced from 16 to 46 years. The three felony charges each carried a minimum three-year sentence. By reducing one felony assault charge to simple assault and eliminating two others, the plea agreement essentially removed a gun from Taylor's hand in the narrative of what happened. That, Sharpstein said, represented an important shift to the NFL.
This case "is not as it was first advertised," Sharpstein said. "At worst, [Taylor] got into a fight confronting the thieves who had stolen his property." Sharpstein and his wife, Janice Burton Sharpstein, argued since they joined Taylor's defense team in February that the charges were overblown and that Taylor had been singled out by a publicity-hungry prosecutor. That prosecutor, Mike Grieco, gave up the case in April after Sharpstein discovered Grieco had links to media reports of the Taylor case on a personal Web site that detailed his exploits as a Miami Beach disc jockey.
"It is unequivocally clear the original prosecutor was ego-driven . . . and wasn't looking at this case for what it was," Sharpstein said.
Miami attorneys Edward Carhart and Larry Handfield also represented Taylor in the case, which was scheduled to go to trial July 10 after seven delays.
"I think [my attorneys] looked out for my best interest and I also looked out for my best interest in this case," Taylor said. "I think the plea that was offered is very good and I think I'm able to carry that out with no problem."
Staff writer Mark Maske in Washington contributed to this report.