Based on his claim, Michael Pittman was allowed to take part in the first of three team workouts. But Coach Gruden and some Bucs cited concerns.
By RICK STROUD
Published June 4, 2003
TAMPA - Bucs running back Michael Pittman has given police and coach Jon Gruden a different account of the incident than the version that led to his arrest Saturday in a domestic dispute.
In a sworn statement given to police in Phoenix, Pittman said he did not deliberately ram his Hummer into a Mercedes-Benz driven by his wife, Melissa, and carrying his 2-year-old son and a babysitter.
Pittman said Melissa was responsible for the accident when the car she was driving struck his vehicle, which he claims was not moving at the time.
Pittman's version doesn't match with the evidence at the scene, according to police and eyewitness reports.
"That was the story he gave us, but it's just not supported in any way by the evidence," Phoenix police Lt. Frank Milstead said Tuesday. "Her vehicle was struck on the (passenger) side and pushed hard enough to blow out the (front) tire."
Pittman, 27, apparently told a similar story to Gruden on Monday.
"I'm not going to answer for him, but he's dead set in his mind that he didn't do anything (wrong)," Gruden said.
Pittman's claim of innocence is in part what prompted the Bucs and Gruden to allow him to participate Tuesday in the first of three team workouts.
The Super Bowl standout left practice without commenting. But he may not be able to spend many more days this offseason in Tampa.
Pittman's arrest violates terms of the probation he is serving for two July 2001 misdemeanor charges of domestic violence against Melissa. Tempe, Ariz. city prosecutors have asked for a detailed copy of a Phoenix police report to determine whether to ask a municipal court judge to revoke Pittman's probation.
If Pittman is found to have violated his three-year probation, he could be sentenced to 10 months in jail.
Tuesday, Gruden defended the decision to allow Pittman to remain with the team.
"We've talked to Mike Pittman; we've heard his side of the story. I don't know his wife's side of the story," Gruden said. "I don't know. None of us were there. So we're going to let the legal system get all the information, get all the facts, and we'll move on accordingly once that process is over.
"I'm concerned about this. Jiminy Christmas. I'm a human being, I've got a family and we're all concerned. We're concerned about Mike Pittman. We want the facts to be presented. And the people that are doing this case will, I'm sure, do an outstanding job and do the right thing. At the same time, I've got to coach a football team, and we've got to remain zoomed in on what we need to do as an organization in winning football games."
The Bucs added insurance at running back by signing 11-year veteran Terry Kirby to a one-year deal. Kirby played the past three seasons with the Raiders, two under Gruden.
Kirby's arrival was not connected to Pittman's legal troubles, Gruden said.
"I know it appears that way, but the two backs are not related in that way in any shape or form," Gruden said.
"Contingency plans are a part of this business, whether it be because of injury or because of off-the-field incidents like this. But we will evaluate this situation immediately and thoroughly. And if we need to make a contingency plan, we will make one."
Several Bucs expressed disappointment over Pittman's arrest but said they support him.
"We feel bad Michael has some legal problems. But as a team, we have to support him. We have to be his support group and help him through this," receiver Keenan McCardell said. "I know it's hard right now, but he has to take it one day at a time and let things pass. He realizes he made a mistake, so let's get back on the right foot."
Pittman is the third Bucs player to be arrested this offseason. Cornerback Dwight Smith faces a third-degree felony charge of aggravated assault with a firearm after pointing a gun at another motorist in Clearwater April 16. Ten days later, tackle Kenyatta Walker was charged with disorderly conduct after a skirmish with bouncers at an Ybor City nightclub.
"It's a reflection on all of us and you don't like it in that respect," safety John Lynch said. "You don't like it, also, because you care about the people it's happening to. It's just because you'd like people to be able to discern between right and wrong. You have to let justice run its course, but you don't like it. But I'll say the leadership on this team is too good. Even though there's been three incidents, this has been a team extremely focused on doing what we have to do. Also, it's a team that's very aware of our role in this community as role models."
Gruden said the Bucs will take swift action if it's determined Pittman is guilty.
"I don't like this at all. I'll be frank," Gruden said. "I don't like seeing our players' pictures in the newspaper, regardless of what the accusations are. I don't like this. I'm concerned about it, obviously, for a lot of reasons, not just for winning and losing, but for general well-being of our football players.
"Once you get all the facts, it's your responsibility as a leader, as a head coach, as a human being to help these guys and do what's appropriate for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's what Rich (McKay) and I will do."