Princeton player sent to prison
Positive drug tests a factor in sentence

Friday, October 16, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brandon Jarrett is taken into custody after hearing his sentence.
(Gary Landers photo)

| ZOOM |
HAMILTON -- Wayne A. Brandon Jarrett, who has been playing football at Princeton High School this season despite two felony drug convictions, will spend the next year in prison.

Judge Anthony Valen of Butler County Common Pleas Court handed the 18-year-old high school senior the maximum one-year prison sentence Thursday and called on the Ohio High School Athletic Association to require drug testing for all high school athletes.

The judge revealed that Mr. Jarrett, a 295-pound team captain, had tested positive for marijuana early Thursday morning and on Sept. 3, the day before he played in Princeton's first game of the season.

"This is a perfect case to show why the (athletic association) should require all high school athletes to be tested for drugs," Judge Valen said. "It is necessary that others understand that our athletes are clean."

In a case that has drawn national attention, school officials have defended Mr. Jarrett, saying he has turned his life around. But Judge Valen pointed out that Mr. Jarrett continued his criminal behavior even after transferring to Princeton in January.

Hamilton police records show that Mr. Jarrett has been arrested at least two other times since then, including a March 15 incident in which he allegedly threatened to kill police and charged at them with a nail-studded board. He was convicted of a juvenile misdemeanor-level charge, said his lawyer, Jonathan N. Fox.

Mr. Jarrett pleaded guilty last month to trafficking in cocaine and possession of cocaine.

Mr. Fox, Mr. Jarrett's father and two Princeton coaches told Judge Valen that the athlete had transformed his life and should be allowed to remain in school. Mr. Jarrett's football teammates also wrote letters to the judge, asking for leniency.

Before being sentenced, Mr. Jarrett expressed remorse.

"I know I made a mistake," he said. "I made a lot of bad choices." But Judge Valen said he doesn't believe Mr. Jarrett has reformed. He cited the athlete's long juvenile criminal record, his positive marijuana tests and the March 15 incident.

"He's a role model?" the judge said sarcastically during the hearing. "He probably smoked marijuana right after the last football game."

Bryan Deal, Princeton head football coach, said after the hearing that Princeton officials didn't know about Mr. Jarrett's juvenile record. "It was very disappointing, learning of some of that information," he said.

Hamilton police records show their first contact with Mr. Jarrett came in spring 1994, when he was 13 and faced a criminal-damaging charge. He also was arrested nine more times, including two alleged drug-trafficking incidents within two weeks last December and January. Both drug offenses occurred within 1,000 feet of a school, and the latter case was transferred to adult court, leading to his conviction and sentencing.

News of the previous offenses and failed drug tests during this football season made Mr. Deal feel somewhat betrayed. "We've gone a long way to support this young man," he said.

Yet, Mr. Deal maintained that Mr. Jarrett "was someone who has done things right in our presence."

"This has been very difficult for me, personally and professionally, because I don't condone what he has done," Mr. Deal said. "But at what point do we bail out on kids who are in trouble?"

After the sentencing, deputies handcuffed Mr. Jarrett. As he was being led from the courtroom, he stopped and kissed his mother, Carmen Dillingham.

She was disappointed and angry with the judge's sentence.

"This is sending the message to kids that you can't turn your life around," she said. "The judge is up for re-election this year and I guess he had to give the maximum sentence."

Judge Valen is running against George M. Parker of Mason for a seat on the 12th District Court of Appeals.

Mr. Jarrett's father, Wayne Jarrett of West College Hill, acknowledged that his son has made serious mistakes. But he said he thought he had been trying to turn his life in a positive direction.

"I hope he doesn't learn all the bad habits in prison," he said. "I hope he'll go in feeling that he can come out and still succeed."

Judge Valen said Princeton officials should not be faulted for allowing Mr. Jarrett to play football.

"Princeton did not have the information about Mr. Jarrett that I have," he said.

The judge said if the state wants high school athletes to be role models, it should make them undergo regular drug tests.

But the Ohio High School Athletic Association has no plans to adopt such a requirement, said Dr. Deborah Moore, the Columbus organization's assistant commissioner.

"We leave those decisions to local schools," she said. "Drug testing is an expensive enterprise. We don't hear a strong push from schools to spend the kind of money they would have to spend on mandated drug-testing programs."

The Olentangy School District near Columbus -- one of six districts in the state that have drug-testing programs -- spends $70,000 a year on its program, Dr. Moore said.

She cautioned against over-reacting to the Jarrett case.

"I would suspect that this case is an extremely rare, isolated case," she said.

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