Williams' Status in Limbo Because of Legal Troubles
Court records show Carol City star Willie Williams has been arrested 10 times and has been on probation since July 2002.
BY MANNY NAVARRO AND SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN
Carol City High linebacker Willie Williams' controversial recruiting trip to Gainesville last weekend might have violated his probation, which could affect his status with the University of Miami.
According to court records provided online by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Williams has been arrested 10 times, and his involvement in three separate incidents in Gainesville last weekend might have violated his probation for a burglary that took place in Pembroke Pines in July 2002.
Williams, now 19, was a juvenile in every case, mostly theft related. He was tried as an adult at 17 for his last burglary arrest, when he pleaded no contest to a charge of stealing stereo equipment valued at $3,800 from Pembroke Pines Señor Stereo. He was set to finish his 18-month probationary period next Wednesday.
His future with UM, for which he signed a letter of intent Wednesday on national signing day, is unclear.
"The fact that he was involved in three incidents in a span of a few hours is serious trouble," said Gainesville state attorney Bill Cervone. "If you combine the three incidents, he could get up to seven years [in jail]. As a first-time offender, that definitely wouldn't happen. But if he has a prior history, that's another thing. It would affect what we do."
When reached by phone at his house Thursday evening, Williams said his lawyer had advised him not to talk. However, on Wednesday, Williams denied wrongdoing.
Public defender Paul Lazarus, who is representing Williams, said: "Right now, he hasn't been charged or arrested. It assures that his [probation] hasn't been broken. The fact somebody has made an allegation against him doesn't mean it's a violation of [probation]. He's a fine young man, and I expect him to have a fine career at UM."
UM spokesman Mark Pray said football coach Larry Coker was unavailable for comment Thursday. Athletic director Paul Dee said, "We're still in the process of gathering information."
Pray told The Herald that UM was "not aware of any probation."
"We do background checks, but they are limited because for the most part we are dealing with juveniles," Pray added. "All prospective student-athletes are checked through their schools and the people who deal with them on a day-to-day basis.
"The reports on Willie were all very positive."
Cervone, who noted it would take at least two weeks to press charges should his office decide to do so, said two complaints were filed against Williams on Wednesday and another is on its way. Two involve misdemeanor battery — one for allegedly hugging a female against her will late Friday night and the other for allegedly punching a Gainesville man about three hours later at a downtown night club early Saturday.
The third complaint, according to police reports, involves Williams allegedly discharging three fire extinguishers at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and classifies as a felony. The police reports say Williams was identified in photographs by Joanna Braganza and her boyfriend David A. Cohen, as well as by Akeem Thompson, the man he allegedly punched at the nightclub. Police said Williams admitted to hugging the girl and discharging the extinguishers.
It is unknown how much UM coaches know about Williams' legal history or if they are aware Williams attended Bay Point, a boarding school for teenage juvenile delinquents, for one year.
Williams, 6-2 and 230 pounds, is a Parade All-American listed by recruiting analysts as the nation's No. 1 outside linebacker. The Carol City coaching staff confirmed he is a full academic qualifier with a 1070 SAT score and a 3.0 GPA.
"Our admissions office does have a lot of confidence in what the athletics department is doing in recruiting students," said Ed Gillis, UM director of admission. "Obviously, [coaches are] very concerned with the character of young men and young women they have to work with for four or five years. It's not in their best interest to bring in people who are trouble."
Gillis said if it is known a student or potential student has been convicted of a crime, an investigation is done through the dean of students office. "We always have the right to withdraw an offer of admission for the right reasons," he said.
This is not the first time a UM recruit has run into trouble after signing day. In 2002, Miami Edison linebacker Nate Harris was charged with a first-degree felony for his involvement in an armed robbery. He served six months in a boot camp, lost his scholarship and now plays at a junior college in Oklahoma.