Coach gets 61/2 years for gun at game

Sun follow-up

May 13, 2008|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,Sun reporter

GREENBELT - Aaron McCown, a youth football coach embraced by his team despite a criminal past, was sentenced yesterday to 61/2 years in prison for using a loaded pistol to intimidate a referee.

Like many others, U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow seemed to consider McCown an enigma: a man with a lengthy record - including heroin dealing and assault - who earned a community service award from the Johns Hopkins University five years ago for volunteering to help coach the Old Town Gators, a Pop Warner team in East Baltimore, each fall.

"This, I think, is your last chance," the judge told McCown. "You need to figure out what prompted you to do all this back in September 2007 when otherwise you were doing the right things."

Prosecutors portrayed McCown, 32, as a failed role model who betrayed the faith his players had in him.

"This is somebody with a history of aggressive behavior who is bringing a gun to a football field at a youth game," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michele W. Sartori told the judge. "More troubling, this is someone who holds himself out as a role model."

McCown's intentions might have been good, Sartori said, but he "is not at all a role model, he's a cautionary tale."

McCown was an assistant coach on one of six Gators teams - the youngest is for 5- to 7-year-olds, the oldest for youths up to age 15 - that played the White Oak Warriors in Montgomery County on Sept. 22. A referee ended the game early after the team's fans and coaches complained about the officiating.

A police report said an enraged McCown told a referee, "I have something for your [expletive]" before running to a pickup truck to grab a bag containing a gun. According to the plea agreement, McCown "walked back onto the field toward the referee while holding the bag containing the weapon." No shots were fired.

Prosecutors asked Chasanow to sentence McCown to seven-and a quarter years, the high end of sentencing guidelines. McCown was originally accused of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, a charge that could have sent him to prison for more than 20 years. He pleaded guilty in March to a lesser charge of knowingly receiving an explosive, a .45-caliber pistol that authorities said contained four rounds of ammunition.

McCown's attorney, federal public defender John Chamble, had asked for a sentence of just less than six years.

"It seems that Mr. McCown is living in two worlds," Chamble said. "This is a man brimming with potential. I do not want to snuff that light out, your honor."

The judge's sentence was between the recommendations of the prosecution and the defense.

His voice quivering, McCown, his hair in dreadlocks and wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, rose before the judge's sentence and acknowledged the emotional harm - and the good - that he had done to the players.

"In some ways I built up the community, and in some ways I destroyed a community," said McCown, who turned 32 on Sunday.

He could end up serving less than five years with good behavior and because he has been imprisoned for seven months since his arrest in October.

McCown's case heightened awareness among parents in the Baltimore area and around the country about the need for better background checks of coaches.

Many on his team and in his neighborhood continue to support him. About 70 letters, notes and signatures were delivered to the judge on his behalf. McCown coached in an East Baltimore neighborhood where community leaders say male role models are lacking. Most of the Gators come from single-parent homes.

"His players looked upon him as a friend, not just their coach," said a letter to the judge from Andre'a Miles, a family friend. "Mr. McCown made himself available to his players or anyone else who needed help or just needed someone to talk to."

"The children have no one to coach them or listen to their problems the way he did," her letter said.

McCown also faces a Circuit Court charge of violating the terms of his parole from a 2006 conviction for possessing with intent to distribute heroin. That charge could mean additional prison time.

McCown told the judge he understood that he might not be permitted to coach again in Baltimore, but he said he hopes to work with youths when released.

"What I tried to do was help my kids learn from the mistakes I made," he said.

After sentencing, McCown was permitted by marshals to see his 2-week-old niece, Si'Riyah, for the first time. McCown smiled as he gazed at the child.

The baby was accompanied by McCown's sister, mother and aunt.

"She looks just like him," said the mother, Sheila Word, who dabbed her eyes as her son was led away.

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