Quarterback sacked; Police chief, attorney give conflicting accounts of police beating that landed Hoboken, Penn State football star in prison
An attorney for Penn State quarterback and Hoboken resident Rashard Casey continued to deny charges last week that Casey participated in the beating of a Hoboken police officer last weekend that landed the officer in the hospital and Casey behind bars. Casey, the 1995-96 Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year and former Hoboken High School football player, who has gone on to play for Penn State's nationally-ranked Nittany Lions, was arrested early last Sunday morning and charged with aggravated assault upon an off-duty Hoboken police officer. Police said that the attack came because the officer, who is white, was with a black woman at a bar, but Casey and his attorney are vehemently denying all charges. According to Hoboken police reports, Casey, 22, and his former high school teammate, Desmond Miller, also 22, were arrested at 3 a.m. Sunday morning after it was alleged that they were involved in an altercation with off-duty officer Patrick Fitzsimmons outside of the popular nightspot River Street. According to Hoboken Police Chief Carmen LaBruno, Fitzsimmons and an unidentified black female companion were heading toward Fitzsimmons' car when they were stopped by a group of men, of which Casey and Miller were two. Police said members of the party made comments about the woman's being with Fitzsimmons, who is white. "There was a lot of dialogue between the two," Chief LaBruno said last week. "Words were passed back and forth that preceded the assault." LaBruno said that apparently, one of the comments was issued toward the female was, "What are you doing with him? You should be with us. You're one of us." Originally, it was reported in the newspapers that it was Casey himself who issued those words, but LaBruno said that he had not attributed that quote to Casey. Led to violence
What ensued next is somewhat unclear, and there are conflicting reports from both the police and Casey's attorney, Dennis McAlevy, as to what transpired. But the verbal confrontation quickly turned into a physical one, police said, with Fitzsimmons getting punched in the head from the rear and knocked to the ground. He then was punched and kicked in the head while on the ground. Fitzsimmons, the brother of former Hoboken councilman (and current police lieutenant) James Fitzsimmons, was unconscious after the beating and was taken to St. Mary's Hospital, where he was treated for head and face abrasions and trauma. He was released later on Sunday. LaBruno said that Casey was spotted by two eyewitnesses as being the person who delivered the second punch to Fitzsimmons. He said that witnesses fingered Miller, who has at least four prior arrests to his credit, as being the instigator who threw the first punch. One of the eyewitnesses is an off-duty Jersey City police officer, Thomas Vigna. Another former Hoboken football star, Keeon Walker, who currently plays for Syracuse, apparently tried to intervene and stop the incident from escalating, but to no avail. "He tried to separate the parties during the period when they were still talking," LaBruno said. "But someone stepped behind the victim and hit him from behind." LaBruno said that based on what he has been told about the incident, he believes that Miller was the instigator and that Casey quickly jumped into the fracas. "Casey was identified by two people who saw him punch and kick the officer when he was down," LaBruno said. "Three others identified him being there and being involved in the dispute. The victim also gave a physical description of Casey." Apparently, that evening, Casey was wearing his hair in cornrows, and his clothing matched the description given by the eyewitnesses, who did not immediately recognize Casey as being the football star. "They said that they saw the person with the cornrow hair as the one who threw the second punch, then kick the person in the face," LaBruno said. "The physical description is what went out over the air, not that it was Rashard Casey." Casey was apprehended near the McDonald's on Third and Washington, wearing the hair style and clothing that matched the description. Miller was apprehended trying to enter a taxi cab a block away from the fight scene. Both were taken to Hudson County Jail and charged with aggravated assault. Because of prior offenses, Miller was held in lieu of $20,000 bail and still remains detained. Casey was able to post bond at his arraignment on Monday morning and was released. The case has now been turned over to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office and will be presented to a grand jury, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to indict Casey and Miller on the charges. If it goes to trial and Casey is found guilty, he could face a sentence of 10 to 20 years in jail since it was an assault upon a police officer and an incident that has been called racially-biased. Casey's side
Casey's defense attorney, Dennis McAlevy of Union City, whose daughter, Molly, is a long-time friend of Casey and attended Penn State as well, told a much different tale of what transpired early Sunday morning. According to McAlevy, someone made a comment about Fitzsimmons and the woman allegedly kissing passionately outside the bar, something to the effect of, "Why don't you two get a room?" According to McAlevy's account, the woman took offense to those words and was the one who came after Casey, Miller and Walker. Fitzsimmons followed, McAlevy said. Fitzsimmons did not return phone calls seeking comment last week. His brother, Jimmy, also declined to comment. McAlevy said Casey tried to defend himself from the woman. "Rashard Casey didn't do a damn thing," McAlevy said. "I have four witnesses that can prove that already, and another six that are ready to step forward and say the same. I've known Rashard since he was six years old. He's about as decent of a kid as they come. The charges are so far-fetched and for this kid to be saddled with these charges is a disgrace." LaBruno denied that version. "There is no indication that the woman did anything wrong," LaBruno said, although he would not comment about whether Fitzsimmons and the woman were romantically linked or whether Fitzsimmons was intoxicated at the time. "By the time we asked him for a statement, he was lucid," LaBruno said. "He knew what happened." After his arraignment in front of a Central Judiciary Processing judge on Monday morning, Casey appeared outside the Hudson County Courthouse and offered no comments. He appeared in court wearing his hair straight and not in cornrows. McAlevy showed members of the media Casey's hands. "If (Casey) hit this guy like he's being accused of doing, then why aren't there any abrasions or swelling on his hands?" McAlevy asked. "I have full faith that Rashard Casey will be the starting quarterback this year at Penn State and the case will be adjudicated." McAlevy also took offense at the idea that the attack was racially-biased and that the charges were brought up as being such. "Rashard is about as just as much of a bigot as I am," said McAlevy, who later alluded to the fact that Casey has a multi-racial son by his former Hispanic girlfriend, and has dated white girls in the past. "That idea is ludicrous. It's just unfortunate that the police chief made some very inappropriate and outrageous comments to a newspaper that race had anything to do with it and that he would use his position in that manner. It's a disappointment and the most outrageous comments I've seen in 34 years of practicing law." McAlevy added, "It's just because this was an off-duty cop, one who was not in a bar room for the first time, who was with a woman that was not his wife. It was mean-spirited on the police chief's part." "I just sent the paperwork up to the Prosecutor's Office with the evidence that we had," LaBruno said. LaBruno, who himself was a fine Hoboken High School football player in his day, seemed saddened by the situation. "It's just an unfortunate situation," LaBruno said. "No one wants to see this. But I'm more concerned with the status and the future of my police officer." LaBruno said that the matter is now in the hands of the Prosecutor's Office, but he was assured that the charges against Casey will not be dropped. The case could return to Hoboken Municipal Court after the grand jury receives all the evidence and makes a ruling about a possible indictment. Future uncertain
Casey is considered by many to be the finest athlete in the history of Hoboken High School. He was a three-sport standout, lettering in football, basketball and baseball, earning All-County and All-State honors in football and baseball. He led the Red Wings to two consecutive NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III championships in 1994 and 1995 and was named the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year and Parade All-American in 1995. Casey fielded offers from professional baseball teams, including a lucrative one from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, before deciding to enroll at Penn State in 1996. At Penn State, Casey had just begun to reach his potential, having a fine junior year last year. He led the Nittany Lions to a victory over Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl, earning the game's MVP honors. He completed 59 passes for 856 yards and six touchdowns last year and rushed for 290 yards and scored five times. "Casey's a human highlight film," Penn State fullback Mike Cerimele told the Reporter last year. News of Casey's arrest shocked members of the Hoboken High School community, who still consider him a role model. "This is so totally out of character for Rashard," said Hoboken High School Principal Frank Spano. "I can't believe he was involved. I've never seen him involved in a dispute before. I've spoken to his coaches and they all agreed that it's the kind of kid he is. I'm in shock. The teachers who taught him are in shock; the students are in shock. The whole school is kind of sullen. He's a role model, not for just the school, but the whole community. Everyone who knows him knows what a fine young man he is." Spano added, "I hope it's a case of just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But even by being there isn't a good thing. I just hope that when the facts are sorted, it's not involved as what we're led to believe at this point. Hopefully, Rashard will be vindicated." Spano said that he was hopeful that a lesson was learned in the case by all students. "Being a celebrity like Rashard, you can't put yourself in that position," Spano said. "You can't live a normal life. You have to protect yourself." Spano also disputed the racial charges. "There is no color at Hoboken High School," Spano said. "Rashard is a prime example of that. Everyone gets along and there are no signs of racial incidents. That is what really shocked me the most. In my mind, it can't be racially-biased." Casey, now a fifth-year college senior, is projected to be the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback this season and is considered by some scouts to be a National Football League prospect. Penn State officials would not comment on the situation, issuing only a statement. "Penn State obviously is concerned about reports that quarterback Rashard Casey has been charged in connection with the incident in Hoboken," the release said. "At this time, it would be inappropriate to make any further comment until additional facts are known." Casey went back to Happy Valley, Pa. immediately after pleading not guilty at the arraignment. It was not known whether the incident will have any effect on his current status at the school, or on the football program.