Wizards' Webber Charged With Assault
By Ruben Castaneda and Philip P. Pan
Washington Wizards star Chris Webber was arrested Tuesday and charged with assault, marijuana possession and several traffic offenses after he allegedly resisted Prince George's County police officers who were trying to take him into custody and impound the luxury vehicle he was driving.
Authorities said officers used pepper spray on Webber, who had neither registration documents for the vehicle nor a driver's license, after he refused to get out of the sports-utility vehicle and pushed away an officer.
Webber, 24, was charged with three misdemeanor and six traffic offenses, including resisting arrest, speeding and driving under the influence of a controlled, dangerous substance. He was held in police custody for more than six hours before he was released on his own recognizance about 4:15 p.m. after appearing before a court commissioner in Palmer Park. His trial has been scheduled for April 2.
Although classified as a misdemeanor under Maryland law, the second-degree assault charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $2,500.
Obscured from public view during the brief proceeding, Webber left afterward by a rear exit and did not speak to reporters. His attorney, Bruce Marcus, declined to comment on the incident, as did Wizards officials. Webber could not be reached by phone for comment Tuesday night.
Police sources said last night that a Breathalyzer test performed on We bber at the police station showed he had no alcohol in his system. However, a drug recognition expert who examined Webber at the station found him to be under the influence of drugs, police sources said.
The drug recognition expert has special training in determining whether someone is under the influence of drugs. Such an expert basically observes an individual's behavior and conducts simple tests without using any equipment, often focusing on a person's pupil movements.
According to the charging documents, the butt of a marijuana cigarette was found in the front, center ashtray of the truck, and marijuana residue was found on the floor behind the driver's seat. Marijuana is not a banned substance under the NBA's anti-drug policy, which bans the use of cocaine and heroin.
Law enforcement sources said the truck had been customized with several extra compartments some of which were described as "hidden" and is rigged with a device that could be used to obscure its license tags.
A police spokesman would confirm only that the truck had custom modifications. He said none were illegal and declined to describe them.
A drug-sniffing dog was used to thoroughly search the truck, and officers found nothing besides the marijuana residue.
"Unfortunately, at this time, we are not in a position to make any statements," Marcus said after the hearing. Of Webber, Marcus said, "He's looking forward to his trial."
Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld, reached yesterday afternoon before Webber was released, said he would not comment until he had talked to Webber.
Wizards Coach Bernie Bickerstaff said last night: "I think what's important is Chris Webber the person and not Chris Webber the basketball player. I think what teams are about and families are about is taking care of each other in times like these. And sometimes, that means you have to look something in the eye and deal with it."
Asked about the problems his team's stars have had, Bickerstaff said: "We just have to keep rolling our sleeves up. Leadership, in a lot of situations, has developed from adversity."
Webber's arrest is the latest in a series of high-profile incidents involving professional athletes' alleged drug use and assaults and again raises questions about players being role models.
Three Wizards players have been arrested in the last 14 months. In September, Rod Strickland was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol and disorderly conduct after he was stopped by a D.C. police officer for allegedly making an illegal U-turn. Strickland had been scheduled to go to trial today, but his attorney, Billy Martin, said the matter had been continued until next month. In November 1996, Juwan Howard was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. Howard entered an alcohol rehabilitation program, and the charge was dropped.
Webber left the University of Michigan in 1993 after his sophomore year and was selected by Orlando in the first pick of the NBA draft that spring. He was traded immediately to Golden State, but after a highly publicized feud with then-Warriors Coach Don Nelson, Webber forced a trade, arriving in Washington in November 1994 in exchange for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks. He joined Juwan Howard, his teammate from the University of Michigan, who had been selected by the then-Washington Bullets as their first-round pick in the 1994 draft. In 1995, Webber signed a six-year, $57‚million deal with the team.
"I definitely want to do whatever I can do to support my boy. When I heard about it at practice, I was scared for him," Howard said. "Skip the distraction. I'm worried about him. I want to know he's all right. We, as a team, can deal with all that on another level."
This year, Webber has been a pivotal player for the Wizards. He scored 31 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the team's win Saturday over the Los Angeles Clippers. He has scored 20 or more points in 12 straight games.
Webber apparently was on his way from his Mitchellville home to morning practice at the MCI Center when he was stopped about 9:30 a.m. in the 9100 block of Landover Road. Charging documents filed yesterday state that Webber was driving about 70 mph in a 50-mile-an-hour zone when his black 1988 Lincoln Navigator passed an unmarked police car on the right.
In an affidavit filed in support of the charges, Officer R. Kane said he also saw the Navigator being driven at a high rate of speed and followed it in his marked police cruiser. In the affidavit, Kane said he drove 60 miles an hour in an attempt to keep pace with the Navigator, which quickly accelerated.
The court documents stated that Kane pulled over the Navigator and that the undercover officer in the unmarked car stopped to assist. Kane then walked to the driver's side to interview the motorist. When he asked for his driver's license and registration, Kane said in the affidavit, the driver said he had no identification or registration except for a credit card and gave his name as Mayce Chris Webber. Police sources said Kane, 23, who has been on the force less than two years, did not recognize that the driver was basketball star Chris Webber.
"When asked questions the defendant was slow to answer and would not talk directly to me," Kane wrote in his affidavit. Police sources said that Webber continued to use his cellular phone after he had been stopped and before he was taken into custody.
The black Navigator bore Michigan tags. Webber, who attended the University of Michigan, is from that state. Kane checked with a dispatcher and learned that there was no record of a valid driver's license in Maryland or Michigan for a Mayce Chris Webber, police sources said. An NBA player profile of Webber lists his full name as Mayce Edward Christopher Webber II.
According to the affidavit, Kane then wrote Webber citations for failure to display a driver's license, driving without a license and speeding.
Kane walked back to the driver's side of the Navigator to give Webber the citations and told him to step out of the truck and leave the key in the ignition because the vehicle was about to be impounded, the affidavit said.
When he tried to open the driver's-side door, "the defendant struck my hand," Kane wrote in the affidavit. Kane then opened the door and told Webber, who is 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 245 pounds, that he was under arrest, the affidavit said.
"The defendant resisted by pulling away from me and pushing my hands away," Kane wrote. "The defendant seemed strong and did not seem like he was about to give up."
Police sources said Webber tried to shut the door after pushing the officer. Kane then used the pepper spray on Webber and handcuffed him, the affidavit said. A second officer who had arrived to provide backup also helped subdue Webber, police sources said.
The cigarette butt was field-tested and came up positive for marijuana, the affidavit said.
Prince George's police have been using pepper spray for a little more than a year. Pepper spray is similar to Mace and burns the eyes.
According to the police department's general orders, officers should consider using the spray "to halt or deter aggressive action toward or resistance against an officer and only when necessary to accomplish lawful objectives."
In addition to marijuana possession, second-degree assault and resisting arrest, all misdemeanors, Webber was charged with six traffic offenses: driving without a license, failure to display a license, driving an unregistered motor vehicle, failure to display registration, failure to obey a lawful order and driving a vehicle under the influence of a controlled, dangerous substance.
The maximum penalty for second-degree assault is 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Possession of marijuana carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Staff writer Ric Bucher contributed to this report.
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