As April Fool's Days go, this year's rendition is sure to go down as one of the more memorable in the history of the Penn State football program. But the events that occurred in an off-campus apartment in the early morning hours of April 1, 2007, will hardly be recalled in humorous fashion.
Whether those events have a long-lasting impact on Joe Paterno's squad remains to be seen. But for the time being, with six Nittany Lions arrested Monday in connection with an alleged fight in the apartment, questions abound for the immediate future of the program.
The two players facing the most serious charges are junior defensive back Anthony Scirrotto and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Chris Baker. Both were arrested for, among other things, felony burglary, a crime typically punishable by between 12 and 24 months in prison.
The duo was also charged with felony criminal trespass, simple assault and harassment. Scirrotto faces two counts of criminal solicitation and Baker one count of disorderly conduct.
Four other players — starting cornerback Justin King, backup linebackers Jerome Hayes and Tyrell Sales, and reserve defensive back Lydell Sargeant — face counts of felony criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment. Convictions on such charges typically are punished with probation.
Speaking for our football staff, we are very concerned with the accusations made today and will determine the appropriate consequence for each player's status on the team when due process has transpired, Paterno said in a prepared statement. Until such time, we will have no further comment regarding the situation.
All six players were arraigned in State College Friday morning. Scirrotto and Baker were released on $50,000 unsecured bail while the remaining four were released on $10,000 unsecured bail. They all face a preliminary hearing May 4.
There is no word on when or if Penn State's office of Judicial Affairs will look into the matter. If it does, however, it will find an extremely complicated situation, one where there is plenty of talk of violent conflict yet where no felony assault charges have been filed.
State College police chief Tom King and Centre County district attorney Michael Madeira held a joint press conference Friday morning to spell out the case for reporters.
TAP MEMBERS CAN SEE FIGHTONSTATE.COM’S ONE-ON-ONE INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL MEDEIRA HERE.
Police say trouble started just after 11 p.m. March 31, when Scirrotto and his girlfriend were involved in an altercation with three men near Hooter's Restaurant in downtown State College. Police received conflicting reports on that incident. But one of the men involved — Bernd Imle — claimed he was kicked in the groin by Scirrotto's girlfriend. Imle then admitted to shoving the woman and punching Scirrotto in the face, according to police.
When Scirrotto attempted to use a cell phone, it was knocked out of his hand by a second man, Thomas Skalamera, according to police.
Imle has since been charged with harassment and Skalamera with criminal mischief.
After the incident, the three males — including Imle and Skalamera — went to the nearby Meridian II building, where they went to a third-floor apartment. Scirrotto followed them, along the way calling his brother, Derek, a PSU student, police said. The brother and two friends arrived shortly thereafter but when the group attempted to enter the apartment, they were turned away.
According a police affidavit, Scirrotto then called Sargeant, who was in an on-campus apartment with fellow Lions Justin King, Hayes and Deon Butler, as well an unnamed recruit visiting campus that weekend. King, Sargeant and Hayes headed downtown in one car, with Butler and the recruit following in another.
King told police when he arrived about 40 people (not all football players) were gathered outside the Meridian II building. He also said some 45 people eventually headed up to the apartment.
Other Penn State football players who were downtown also showed up at the scene, according to police reports, though Scrirrotto denied calling anyone other than his brother and Sargeant.
An affidavit said Butler and the recruit went to a nearby McDonald's and were not involved in the incident at the apartment.
The residents of the apartment alleged that more than 10 football players forced their way into the space, despite earlier being told they were not welcome. All of the players charged with crimes in this case admitted entering the apartment, according to police.
And that is the primary issue in the case.
We had to be careful to draw a line, a legal limit, Madeira said.
We thought the logical legal threshold was the [apartment] door. If they went in knowing they were not to be there, as the allegation claims, that's when we believed the crime had occurred, and those were the individuals we could identify.
The district attorney added that the public seems to be confused by the burglary charges.
Burglary is entering an
occupied structure with the intent to commit a crime in it, Madeira said. I know most people get the idea it has something to do with theft. That would be robbery. Burglary in this case is entering this private residence, knowing you don't have permission to do so, with the intent to commit a crime therein.
Though there are many reports of violent fighting taking place in the apartment — Hayes allegedly told the police there was chaos for five straight minutes — no felony assault charges were filed against any of the players (or anyone else for that matter).
The next step in this process will be the preliminary hearings at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., next week. They are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Madeira said his office will issue as many as 30 subpoenas.
I expect that to literally take all day and then some, he said.
Hear The Press Conference Here.
Scirrotto and King are both returning starters. If for some reason they are unable to play in 2007, it would be a serious blow to the Penn State secondary. Both players — as well as Sargeant — have redshirt seasons available.
Many project King as an All-American in 2007, while Scirrotto earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2006 after tying for the league lead in interceptions.
Of the remaining three, only Sales was vying for a starting spot in the spring. And in recent weeks, the outside linebacker was passed on the depth chart by redshirt freshman Navorro Bowman.