Looks as if the D.C. area isn't done with Rod Strickland just yet. The former Wizards point guard drew another charge recently. Off the court, of course.
Strickland's latest encounter with legal trouble garnered much less fanfare than his signing last week by the Miami Heat. And it attracted less attention than previous arrests of the 13-year NBA veteran, who his lawyer ardently asserts is a "magnet" for false arrest.
There are two reasons for the lack of publicity: The incident that got Strickland in trouble happened late in the evening of Sept. 11, a date that will live in infamy for reasons unrelated to him, and Strickland getting arrested no longer meets the "Man Bites Dog" test among most local news organizations.
Were it not for the fact that some folks allegedly suffered real injuries in the parking-lot brawl that led to Strick's scrape, this one would really raise some giggles.
Because whether or not he is guilty of the second-degree assault charge now pending against him in Prince George's County, the evidence in the case is already overwhelming that Strickland makes some sorry partying choices.
Thanks to the case, for example, we now know that Strickland, a guy who took tens of thousands of dollars from the Wizards in his five years with the team, likes to hang at T.G.I. Friday's. With members of the first family of sissified soul, DeBarge.
"Rhythm of the Night"!
Though Strickland's criminal and civil liability, if any, for what took place on the night in question will be sorted out in courtrooms in the coming months, there is agreement that he was on the premises when a sizable fracas broke out in the parking lot of the Bowie outpost of T.G.I.F. between customers of the restaurant and employees of a rival cheesy chain, Applebee's.
According to police and witness reports, the brawl started when empty bottles were found under somebody's car. An argument over who had put them there and why ensued. Soon enough, a member of the Applebee's gang was on the pavement allegedly getting pounded by T.G.I.F. patrons, a group that witnesses said included Chico DeBarge.
Seeing her co-worker taking the beating, Applebee's waitress Kristine Murphy says she moved toward the action to try to help out. Before she reached her comrade, however, she says she found herself on the blacktop.
"I got knocked out," says Murphy, who quit her Applebee's job shortly after the scrap and now works at an Annapolis eatery, Red Robin. "I'm still not OK."
With Murphy still groggy, the brawlers hopped in separate cars and left the parking lot at high speed. P.G. County cops arrived on the scene and interviewed witnesses and Murphy, but declined to arrest any participant.
"There were no charges filed, because nobody would come forward to say [Strickland] was involved in the altercation," says Cpl. Tammy Sparkman, a spokesperson for the P.G. County Police.
However, a day later, when she regained her senses and began doing some investigating of her own, Murphy decided she knew who'd opened the can of whupass that had put her down. She went to the courthouse and filed a criminal complaint against Strickland alleging that his punch had caused a gash in her face that required four stitches to close and left her head, arm, and legs injured.
On the basis of the version of events contained in Murphy's complaint, a courts commissioner issued an arrest warrant for the NBA vagabond. Neither DeBarge nor anybody else at the scene of the T.G.I.F. Massacre was charged.
According to Michael Statham, Strickland's attorney, the commissioner's decision to issue a warrant was not only wrong given the evidence already collected by the police, but abnormal. Murphy, he says, couldn't provide the court with Strickland's address at the time of her filing, and under normal circumstances the courts will dismiss claims lacking such information.
"Rod Strickland being charged is a non-[expletive deleted] story," says Statham. "The story here is that in Maryland, a flaw allows a person to go down and swear out charges against someone they can't even identify as being the perpetrator of a criminal act against them. That's the story here. After police had already investigated the incident and declined to prosecute or arrest him! Witnesses had already told police that Rod Strickland was not the culprit. A warrant should not have been issued."
Statham surmise that Strickland's celebrity was a factor in the warrant being issued. Strickland and his attorneys have used similar arguments in the past. When he was charged in D.C. with a DUI and disorderly conduct in 1997, the first of four arrests during Strickland's horrendous stay with the Wizards, attorney Billy Martin said Strickland "was charged because of who he is." He ultimately pleaded guilty to driving while impaired.
Strickland was also the only one arrested during a sweep of a D.C. bar last fall. Statham got those charges dropped by arguing, among other things, that the arrest wouldn't have happened if the cops hadn't known they were dealing with a star. Statham successfully defended Strickland against 1999 DUI and reckless-driving charges filed against him after cops said he ran red lights and sped through Northwest Washington. Strickland allegedly had refused a Breathalyzer and failed field sobriety tests administered by the cops. According to news accounts, he signed autographs for jurors outside the courtroom after being acquitted.
Strickland was arrested again for DUI for swerving on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in January 2001 and pleaded guilty. The Wizards waived him in March and gave him several million dollars extra to void his contract with the team. He finished out last season with Portland. In the years before he became a Wizard, Strickland had reportedly been involved in brawls in Chicago, New York, and San Antonio, and his scuffle with teammate Tracey Murray during a 1997 road trip left both with minor injuries, according to news accounts.
Strickland is scheduled to go to court for the assault charge on Jan. 7. (Statham will not be representing Strickland at trial this time around, because he was with the alleged basketbrawler the night of the incident and could be called as a witness. Meanwhile, last week, the attorney consented to be disbarred as of Nov. 30, settling a case brought against him by his former law firm for misappropriation of funds.)
Strickland will also soon face civil suits related to the T.G.I.F. matter, according to Murphy's attorney, John P. Valente. He says that Strickland's actions, not his bank account, inspired the litigation. "I'm going to have three witnesses, including my client, say that Rod Strickland, with a closed fist, punched my client in the face," Valente says. "He punched a female who was defenseless. I don't care if he's a basketball player or a garbage manyou're not supposed to punch defenseless people in the face."
Strickland is slated to make his first visit to the MCI Center as a member of the Heat on Dec. 12. Along with his signing by Pat Riley, Strickland got an unexpected boost last week. L.A. Clippers forward Elton Brand, the top pick in the 1999 NBA draft and another gazillionaire, told ESPN the Magazine that he, too, hangs out at T.G.I. Friday's. Dave McKenna