Howard athlete suspended from school, sports teams

Student was charged after drug raid at home

August 21, 1999|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

While the Long Reach High School football team sweated in the muggy heat yesterday, one of its star players sat at home, ruminating over his future.

Devin Taron Conwell, 17, a starting football and basketball player at the Columbia high school, has been suspended from the school and its sports teams indefinitely after being arrested and charged with possession of drugs, Howard County school officials said yesterday.

School officials decided to suspend Conwell after days of research and debate.

Had he been arrested on campus, Conwell would automatically have been suspended.

But, because the arrest took place at his home, he could have continued to attend Long Reach and play sports.

The decision on Conwell's fate fell to David A. Bruzga, principal of Long Reach, and Michael E. Hickey, superintendent of Howard County schools.

Howard County police raided Conwell's home in the 8900 block of Footed Ridge in Columbia on Aug. 4 and said they found two handguns and 4.4 pounds of suspected marijuana -- worth about $4,500 on the street -- packaged for distribution.

They charged Conwell as an adult with possession of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possession of drug-related paraphernalia. Other charges may be pending, police said.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now," Conwell said yesterday. He said he has an attorney and is considering appealing the school's decision to suspend him.

Five others were arrested and charged in connection with the drug raid, among them two juveniles and Devin Conwell's 21-year-old brother, Irving Alexander Conwell.

Police found suspected marijuana plants in the basement where Irving Conwell lived and five baggies filled with suspected crack cocaine, according to charging documents in the case.

Irving Conwell, who was a football and basketball star at Oakland Mills High School, was charged with possession of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, possession of a controlled substance other than marijuana and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.

For Devin Conwell, football had been not only his life but his ticket to college.

Now he said he does not know whether he will be able to go to college.

"I had a lot of choices," he said. "At least five [colleges] wanted me to go there."

After issuing a press release, officials in the Howard County School system declined to comment about the decision to suspend Conwell from school and the football team.

The press release said that Hickey had decided that Conwell "would be assigned to home teaching with such teaching to take place in a setting not on school property and other than his home."

The news release also said Devin Conwell would be prohibited from school property "indefinitely" and that he was ineligible to participate in sports or other activities.

It did not say how long he would be suspended from school.

"Any further action to be considered will be based on new developments or the outcome of legal proceedings in the case," it said.

Maryland law allows school officials to punish students who have been charged with off-campus community offenses if they are believed to pose a possible threat to the safety or well-being of students and staff.

Conwell said school officials told him his choices were "either home-school or Gateway."

Gateway serves about 100 middle and high school students who were disruptive in their regular schools.

Community reaction to the decision was mixed.

Dorothy Griggs, president of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association at Long Reach High School, said she supports the decision.

"It's a difficult choice," she said. "No one really wins."

Jack Der, who employed Conwell for a couple months this summer at Jack's restaurant in the Long Reach Village Center, said he thought Conwell was innocent and should be allowed to stay in school and play football.

"Why would he work for me at $6 an hour if he was out there dealing drugs?" Der said.

He said Conwell had too much going for him to risk everything dealing drugs.

"I really think he's taken the fall for somebody, and it's a shame," Der said.

Conwell said he plans to follow the Long Reach football team.

"I can't go to the games and stuff, so I guess I'm going to have to read about it," he said. But, he added, he wouldn't try to stay in touch with any of his former teammates.

"I'm probably going to leave everybody alone and just stay to myself," he said.

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