Lewis facing legal hurdle

Warden mom, previous woes show Raven both sides of law

Trouble as teenager, collegian, pro

Offensive Player of Year `did nothing wrong,' lawyer says

Jamal Lewis' Indictment

February 26, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

As a youngster growing up in Atlanta, Jamal Lewis would make the occasional trip to his mother's place of employment. Given that it was a prison, this was not a typical day at the office.

Years later, when Lewis was a rookie running back with the Ravens, he still remembered those visits to his mother, Mary Lewis, who was a warden at the Georgia Department of Corrections.

"I used to go up and visit with her at work," Jamal Lewis said in the middle of the Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2000. "I've been around it, watching her in control at the correctional institution. I knew I didn't want to be in those situations."

As revealing as those visits may have been, Lewis nevertheless found himself on the wrong side of the gavel more than once since those formative days.

When he was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges of drug conspiracy for an episode that pre-dates his rookie season, it was the latest warning sign in a career of peaks and valleys.

During his time in Baltimore, Lewis already has served a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse program in 2001. NFL policy dictates that suspensions are handed out for second violations. A player is entered in the program for his first violation, but is not disciplined.

First-time offenders are not publicly identified in the program, either. Because of the confidentiality clause, the substance abused is not disclosed at any time.

Lewis got in hot water legally during his first year at the University of Tennessee in 1997 when he was sentenced to three years of probation and a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to shoplifting charges.

Lewis, who was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year last season after rushing for 2,066 yards, is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine from June 23, 2000, to July 19, 2000.

He was 20 years old at that time and did not sign his first NFL contract until July 23, 2000, on the day the Ravens' training camp opened.

Lewis' Atlanta attorney, Ed Garland, was emphatic in expressing the running back's innocence.

"Mr. Lewis wants everybody to know that he did nothing wrong," Garland said. "He was not part of any drug deal and any contention that he was is false."

Lewis' latest troubles leave his immediate future with the Ravens in doubt. If convicted of the drug conspiracy charge, it could bring him an indefinite suspension depending on a decision by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The Ravens will hold their collective breath in the meantime.

"We believe in due process," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement last night, "and Jamal will have his day in court. There are two sides to every story. From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know."

Lewis' suspension in 2001 did not impact the Ravens on the field because he had already suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. His suspension took effect in November and he was not allowed to have contact with the team until the penalty was lifted in December.

Upon his return to the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Lewis said: "My teammates know I messed up and I wouldn't do anything else to hurt them. They've got confidence and faith in me."

The shoplifting incident occurred during his senior year at Douglas High School in Atlanta. In March of that year, he and a 17-year-old female were charged with taking a $109 polo shirt from a store at the Cumberland Mall.

Store security officers said they watched a store clerk drop the shirt into Lewis' shopping bag without charging him.

Then 18, Lewis was given first-offender status. That allowed first-time offenders' criminal records to be erased if they complete probation without incident. The case was adjudicated in Atlanta's Cobb County.

Although Mary Lewis declined to take phone calls at her home last night, she told The Sun in a 2000 interview that Lewis had been brought up to recognize right from wrong and attended parochial schools.

Speaking of the shoplifting incident, she said: "I had to step out as mother and warden and say, `You are aware of the laws, you are aware of right and wrong.' He was reared in the Catholic faith, attended St. Paul's from birth, attended St. Joseph's Catholic School."

According to a woman who identified herself on the phone last night as a personal assistant to Lewis' mother, Mary Lewis no longer works for the Georgia Department of Corrections.

NFL policies on substance abuse, personal conduct

Substance abuse

Provides for testing, treatment and discipline of players who are found to be abusing alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter drugs or illegal drugs. Repeat offenders face increasingly serious consequences.

A player enters the intervention program after a positive urine test, self-referral or behavior such as a substance-abuse-related arrest.

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