Monday, February 26, 2007

Elijah Dukes' Pal Complains Cops Have Wrong Guy

A companion of Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect Elijah Dukes has tried to take the blame for the troubled player's drug arrest in Tampa on Jan. 16, contending Dukes is innocent.

Willie Evans, 23, of Tampa -- who along with Dukes faces a potential year in jail if convicted of misdemeanor possession of marijuana -- has complained to authorities that the stash of drugs police allegedly found in the console of Dukes' 2006 Dodge Charger belonged not to Dukes, but to Evans.

Police have the wrong man, Evans contends. "I smoke marijuana all the time," Evans told police.

Dukes, 22, has reported to the Grapefruit League after shin splints forced him to leave Arizona Fall League last October. Despite his arrest -- the most recent in some half dozen marks on his record -- Dukes remains on the Rays 40-man roster, though the front office has refused to comment while the case is pending. Dukes remains under the guidance of personality coach Andre Norman of Project Footprint, who has not responded to MLBnewsonline inquiries.

Dukes and Evans were stopped by police last month after they were caught playing rap music so loud that it could be heard more than 100 feet away from the vehicle in which they were riding, a violation of a Tampa noise ordinance. Officers detected the odor of burned cannabis, searched the vehicle and found a paper bag containing more than two ounces of a dried, leafy substance. Evans was also charged with failure to secure his seatbelt.

While Evans contends the marijuana belonged to him, not Dukes,' both are charged with possession because the substance was in Dukes' vehicle and both men had access to it, according to sources familiar with the case. Defendants historically have challenged such arrests on grounds of undetermined ownership of a substance in question, but the courts have frequently held that possession can be established based on its proximity to multiple suspects.

Dukes was suspended by the AAA Durham Bulls for six days in June for a clubhouse disturbance he contended was overblown, then threatened to quit baseball after being suspended indefinitely in August. Subsequently for perhaps unrelated reasons the Bulls manager and staff -- including former Pittsburgh Pirates standout Richie Hebner -- were all fired. Dukes was restored to the team after missing 30 games and went on to play in the Arizona Fall League.

Dukes is expected to compete for either an outfield, first base or DH spot this spring. Though the 6-foot-two, 225 pound Tampa native comes from a troubled background and has frequently experienced anger issues with peers and authority figures, he is among the most gifted prospects in the minor leagues and has received high marks not only for his abilities but his competiveness, work ethic and devotion to the game.