Redskin cornerback Joe Lavender, who recently survived surgery to stop what he described as life-threatening massive internal bleeding, now faces trial on felony charges for allegedly assaulting three police officers Feb. 9 in El Cajon, Calif.
According to what John Willis, Lavender's adviser who is a professor of economics and law at San Diego City College, said yesterday, there is a "possibility" that a police officer allegedly striking Lavender in the stomach with a baton during the incident caused the internal bleeding.
"It's hard to say," Willis said, adding that doctors also discovered during the operation that Lavender had an ulcer. "The doctor couldn't say exactly (that stomach blows caused the bleeding), but that could have been the cause. He had the ulcer and he had itt for some time."
Lavender was formally charged Monday with three felony counts of assault on a police officer, two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery on citizens and one misdemeanor count of resisting a police officer. Arraignment was set yesterday for June 12 in El Cajon, a San Diego suburb.
The charges stemmed from an incident at Cunningham BMW, a autodealership, when Lavender and his brother, Tim, a draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys, arrived to pick up Lavender's car, which had been repaired.
Lavender asked that the bill be sent to his home and the auto dealership refused, according to police and Lavender.
An altercation arose. The facts of what happened thereafter are in dispute between Willis, whose account was supplied by Tim Lavender, and Hugh McManus, a deputy district attorney, whose account was supplied by the El Cajon police.
Willis, who is white, yesterday charged the El Cajon police and district attorney's office with "racism" in the case, claiming the police provoked the incident.
"I couldn't imagine anything more unfounded," replied McManus, when informed of the charges made by Willis in a statement released yesterday afternoon. "It looks like he wants a trial."
Willis also said Lavender, at the time of the altercation, was suffering from a physical ailment, caused by a salt deficiency, that altered his mood and caused him to become irate.
According to Willis, Lavender was hospitalized for 10 days following the incident and was treated with lithium by Dr. Raymond A. Fidaleo, "one of the greatest stress physicians in the country." That salt deficiency is now under control Willis said.
Willis contended the physical ailment is grounds for dismissal of the charges against Lavender.
McManus disagreed. "It is certainly not a defense or anything like that," he said yesterday.
Shortly after being released from the hospital for the salt-deficiency problem, Willis said Lavender called him complaining "that he could not walk or raise his head and said he thought he was dying. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was operated on immediately by Dr. Edgar L. Guinn for massive internal bleeding."
Willis said Lavender had lost five pints of blood. He also said the surgeon discovered Lavender's stomach ulcer and corrected that ailment surgically.
"The doctor told me I was about one day from dying," Lavender said last night from the Dulles Marriott Hotel, where he was preparing to return to California after passing a Redskin physical by team physician Dr. Stanford Lavine.
"I'm gaining my strength back," Lavender said. "I should be in top shape by next month. Oh, yes, I plan to be able to start training camp."
Lavender refused to discuss the charges against him.
"Dr. Willis has said everything I'd like to say. I don't have any other comment," Lavender said.
"You're witnessing justice in action for a black man in the city of El Cajon," Willis said. "If you're black and successful, my advice is to stay out of El Cajon, for your life and career may be in danger."
According to Willis, this is Tim Lavender's account of what happened after the BMW dealer refused to release Joe Lavender's car unless the bill was paid on the spot:
"Joe Lavender had been given an estimate (approximately $700) higher than the actual bill ( $346)," Willis's statement said. "He wanted to drive the vehicle to see if the required work had been accomplished. Joe stated this to the BMW employe and requested the bill be sent to his (San Diego) home.
"The employe stated this was against company policy and parked a truck behind Joe's vehicle so that it could not be moved. Joe requested that the employe move the truck and, when the employe refused, Joe became irate.
"However, he did not strike the employe. The El Cajon police were summoned and two officers arrived on the scene. They, with the assistance of Joe's brother, had contained Joe. Suddenly, (another) . . . officer . . . appeared and while Joe's arms were pined behind him by his brother and an officer, the . . . officer began severely striking Joe in the stomach with the blunt end of his police baton.
"He then stepped back and continued to swing the baton like a baseball bat at Joe's stomach while he was being contained. Tim stepped in and took some of the blows and then was threatened with arrest.
"Joe was then placed face down on the pavement and the . . . officer placed his knee on the back of Joe's head, pressing his face into the pavement. Joe was then taken into custody. According to Tim, one officer was hit by an elbow while Joe was being contained and (another) officer's glasses were broken during the melee. Joe threw no blows at the officer."
McManus, the deputy district attorney, said he would not go into detail on the police version of the incident.
"Do the facts differ? Yes," McManus said. "The fact that he assaulted no other persons. The fact that he assaulted three officers obviously differs.
"It looks like he wants a trial. This case will be decided in court."
McManus said it was possible that Lavender could miss the beginning of training camp, although Willis said this was unlikely because of a backlog of cases and legal maneuvering that surely will occur.
Lavender is being represented by James Pierik, a San Diego attorney. Pierik's office yesterday referred queries to Willis, who teaches law but is not a practicing attorney. CAPTION: Picture, Joe Lavender