Somehow, DA's bizarre and clumsy handling of Alabama players could be justice

·Columnist

That two football stars received a favorable decision with their hometown prosecutor is hardly a shock.

(The) Justice (System) isn’t blind and has never been.

Privilege matters and while Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones lack the family or class status traditionally associated with the term, they have something else going for them – fame. They were both prep stars in Monroe, La. area high schools before heading to the University of Alabama, where they just won the national championship.

That was enough, or partially enough, for a prosecutor to cut them a break that, even if it may be correct (time will tell), cited the wrong reason for how it came about. The whole thing is that circular.

Robinson and Jones were among four men arrested earlier this year when police rolled up on a parked car at 2:33 a.m. in a closed Monroe park. Discovered in the vehicle was a small amount of marijuana and two guns, one of which turned up stolen. The stakes were high, particularly for Robinson, a massive offensive tackle who projects as a top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft.

Jerry Jones, the Ouachita Parish District Attorney, declined Monday to prosecute any of the men.

He had a legal reason for doing so, a lack of evidence that would make individual prosecution challenging. Namely, yes, there were two guns stuffed under the seats, but who actually owned them (or the drugs) and who, if anyone, actually knew one of the firearms was stolen?

“I must show that the person possessing the object knew or should have known it was an object of a theft,” Jerry Jones told KNOE-TV of Monroe. “In this case, with the object being stolen in a different state, I don’t believe I could prove that.”

Ouachita Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones gave bizarre reasoning for letting two Alabama players off the hook. (KNOE screengrab)
Ouachita Parish District Attorney Jerry Jones gave bizarre reasoning for letting two Alabama players off the hook. (KNOE screengrab)

Reasonable. That isn’t the chief reason he didn’t prosecute though, which was both refreshing and terrifying to hear. Jones made it clear that their status as football stars was the prime consideration.

“There is a legal basis and a personal basis,” Jones said. “And I’m going to take the blame. The personal basis is the No. 1 basis. I don’t want to ruin the lives of two young men.

"… I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I'm doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and their teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all at home in the air conditioning, to play football,” Jones stated.

“They did it,” he continued. “They’ve been successful. I wish them well in their future endeavors. I do not think this should be a strike against them with anyone, including Alabama or their hometown of Monroe or anything else.”

Give Jones credit for honesty. He could have hidden behind the weak case, talked tough and moved on without admitting his underlying motivations. Instead he boldly invited plenty of criticism, from those outraged that the rules aren’t always the rules and others who are outraged because, heck, it would have been a lot easier to defeat 'Bama next fall if Cam and Hootie weren’t around.

This is the SEC, after all. LSU country, no less.

Again, he may be right. Just prosecuting everyone isn’t necessarily the best move. A prosecutor's primary job is the execution of justice, even more so than the judge, who may oversee and handle disputed issues, but isn’t charged with such a broad goal.

That we routinely see district attorneys who operate without much regard to justice – or fairness – and instead seek convictions by any means necessary is what commonly creates doubt in the system.

But even in his leniency, Jones casts suspicions on everything.

If there is a legal reason for not taking the case to trial, then shouldn’t that always be the No. 1 concern, not whether he does or doesn’t appreciate the sweat equity of a football career?

If there isn’t enough evidence, if the prosecutor can’t say for sure to whom the guns and drugs belonged, then there should be no reason to review the particulars of the accused. Why does it matter who these guys are? If they were each a foot shorter, are they charged? What if they spent their years working hard and sweating in the heat as landscapers and not glorified athletes?

Only Jones knows that. He’s the one who must stand for re-election and these are the kinds of decisions that the people have determined he is best qualified to make.

Privilege is often a code for perspective and perspective isn’t, on its own, a bad thing. It’d be best if it was universally applied, but it can still be useful.

Was this an act of stupidity? Absolutely. Was it an act of brazenness? Certainly, especially considering the opportunity playing for Nick Saban affords their future.

Alabama offensive lineman Cam Robinson is projected to be a top pick in next year's NFL draft. (AP)
Alabama offensive lineman Cam Robinson is projected to be a top pick in next year's NFL draft. (AP)

Were these hardened criminals or just young men doing stupid, brazen things? Shouldn’t the local DA try to find that out before making a move?

The legal system is the legal system; it’s imperfect and disappointing and dispiriting and wrong at times for myriad reasons. Too hard. Too soft. Too arbitrary. Not arbitrary enough. You can say it’s the worst system going … except for all the other systems.

From here the only concern is if Jones got it right, that essentially these are two guys who have come so far and done so much and have so much potential that it would be wrong to undermine it with felonies that they may not even have committed.

In other words, are these two decent guys who hung out in the wrong car in the wrong place with the wrong people? Or is this Aaron Hernandez having charges not pursued in a bar fight at the University of Florida, or an investigation into a double shooting in Gainesville going nowhere?

Maybe Robinson and Jones sighed with relief Monday and reapplied themselves to the straightest and narrowest of paths after almost losing everything. Or maybe they laughed at double standards and entitlement and naïve, jock-sniffing prosecutors.

Only time will tell, but if there is one burden here on Saban and Alabama – who have promised punishment outside the legal system – it’s to do everything to make it the former, not the latter.

Saban shouldn’t listen to Jones, who believes getting caught in a rental car with drugs and guns shouldn’t be considered a strike against them. Oh, it’s a strike. Maybe not a strike worthy of incarceration or prosecution but it is, at best, begging for trouble.

If Robinson and Jones get a break because they made it all the way to Saban, then it’s Saban’s job to make sure they understand the break they were given – a prosecutor who isn’t just looking to throw every young man in jail, who sees a separate path to rehabilitation, who believes in them … or just loves football.

Not every young man gets such a break.

Robinson and Hootie Jones owe Jerry Jones, big time. Nick Saban does too.

The only way to pay him back is to take this more seriously than the prosecutor did.