By ThÇoden K. Janes
Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA football player Derrick Stewart said yesterday he had nothing to do with last weekend's shooting incident and that police are implicating him in the crime in part because he is black.
Police are investigating Stewart, 23, and teammate Brandon Sanders, 22, based on witnesses who said they can identify them as being in the car from which shots were fired. Victims and witnesses also have said the car belonged to Sanders, a media arts senior.
"I wasn't in Brandon's car, that's a fucking lie," said Stewart, a media arts junior. He admitted he was at a nearby nightclub with teammates, but said he left the establishment with UA wide receiver Rodney Williams. "Police are trying to pin something on me that I didn't do. That's bullshit. They've got the wrong black man."
Police said last night they still planned to question Stewart and Sanders about the shooting, which occurred just before 1 a.m. Sunday near North Ninth Avenue and East Elm Street.
Stewart said he did not think Sanders was involved either, but added, "I don't know what happened because I wasn't in the car with him."
When contacted by the Wildcat last night, Sanders again would not comment on the incident, saying he wanted to "wait until the facts come out."
But Stewart said, "This is more than being out to get athletes, it's a black/white police issue. Every time they pick on somebody, the players are black. I don't even own a gun. Brandon doesn't own a gun. . It's this big black thing, you know, everybody wants to pin everything on us."
Sgt. Eugene Mejia of Tucson Police Department said it is unfortunate Stewart made such a statement, and that TPD is basing its decisions on what victims and witnesses have to say.
"It's not like our officers run up to witnesses and say, 'Was it Derrick Stewart?'" Mejia added.
Although police have not questioned either player yet, Stewart said he spoke to Lorraine Thompson, a TPD aggravated assault division detective, about the incident.
"I just told her that I wasn't the one in the car, that it's a case of mistaken identity," Stewart said. "She should get on her job and investigate. I want my name cleared, but we just have to sit around and wait."
Thompson did not return repeated phone calls, but Mejia said yesterday afternoon that he did not know when police would question the players formally.
"This isn't the only case that detectives have assigned to them," he said. "This is not a television series where we can sew up this case in an hour. This is real life. That's R-E-A-L."
Mejia added TPD will not give the investigation priority simply because the suspects are football players.
At his weekly press conference yesterday, UA head football coach Dick Tomey repeated his intention to avoid rushing to conclusions in the case.
"The easiest thing to do would be to drop the players involved," Tomey said, "but the easiest choice is not always the right one. I think the right thing to do is to be patient and wait for the facts to emerge."
In a statement released yesterday, UA athletic director Jim Livengood said, "The university takes these allegations very seriously, and has conducted an aggressive investigation into these matters. The university will continue to review the allegations, and will take firm and immediate action if the facts support that action."
Stewart, who also faces charges of aggravated assault using a deadly weapon and causing serious injury stemming from an unrelated incident, said his main concern is proving his innocence.
"I want my name cleared of all charges," Stewart said. "I mean, right now, I walk around and everybody looks at me like I'm a criminal, like I did something wrong. I just want to tell the public I'm innocent."
Wildcat reporters Michelle Roberts and Arlie Rahn contributed to this report.
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