Rays' Dukes arrested on marijuana charge

A mentor says the troubled player had been doing well, but their work was recently suspended by the team

Published January 17, 2007

Elijah Dukes was doing better. Talking regularly with nationally known life coach/mentor Andre Norman, he was working to put his controversial past behind him and prove he is ready for an expected opportunity to jump to the majors.

But his future is in question again after his arrest Monday on a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession.

"Oh yeah, it's definitely a step back," Norman said Tuesday. "Some things are preventable and some things aren't, but we were working on this stuff."

Their relationship, however, was put on hold a couple of weeks ago when Norman said the Rays suspended the program without explanation.

Dukes, who had been arrested five times previously and suspended several times by the Rays for on- and off-field incidents, did not return a phone call from the St. Petersburg Times.

The arrest is likely to make Dukes subject to additional drug testing, with future violations leading to disciplinary action, including suspensions. He will have to meet with MLB/players union doctors and officials, who will decide if he will be placed under evaluation. He could also be fined up to $25,000 if convicted.

Dukes, 22, heads into spring training with a strong chance to win a spot on the big-league roster as a reserve outfielder, and there are no indications the arrest will affect his standing with the team. In a statement, the team said: "We appreciate the seriousness of this incident, but the Devil Rays organization will not make any further comment while this remains a pending legal matter."

Dukes, who grew up in Tampa, has had a long history of trouble, including misdemeanor arrests for battery and assault. He has also been involved in numerous incidents on and off the field, including run-ins with a coach and with teammates, and was suspended several times last season, prompting a top official with Triple-A Durham team to say he was not welcome to return.

Norman had worked with Dukes since September, talking almost daily and meeting in person once or twice a month, and claimed Dukes had made steady progress, even speaking to groups of troubled children. But the Rays recently suspended the program without explanation, leading Norman to raise the question if the change led to Dukes' latest troubles.

"I can't say, I don't know for sure, but it didn't work out well for Elijah," Norman said from his Boston base when told of the arrest. "I'm not saying I could have prevented this, but he never smoked weed when he was with me. ... I don't know how he took it that they were about to jerk Andre out of his life. Maybe he took that as the beginning of the end. ... If I was him I'm screaming, 'Where's my mentor you promised me?' "

Norman said Dukes has trust, neglect and commitment issues, and he had worked hard to win his confidence. He planned to spend considerable time with Dukes early in the season then turn responsibility over to team personnel. "The thing with a guy like Elijah is that he needs constant intervention. This is 20-something years of issues," Norman said. "He was on the way with the speaking, outreach, attitude and family situation. He was starting to make connections and make a breakthrough."

Dukes was driving his 2006 Dodge Charger with a companion, Willie Evans, when they were stopped around 6 p.m. Monday by police on a loud music violation near the Belmont Heights area of East Tampa.

Officers noted "a distinct odor of marijuana" and called for a K-9 unit, standard procedure, Tampa police spokesperson Laura McElroy said. When the dog detected drugs, the officers asked Dukes to get out of the car, and he admitted there was marijuana.

"You're going to arrest me for a little sack of weed?" he said, according to McElroy. "At that point they had not told him they had found the drugs."

Police found a bag with less than 2 grams of marijuana in the center console and charged both with misdemeanor possession, which could result in probation or up to a year in county jail. Both were released on their own recognizance.

Evans, 23, has a long record of trouble with 10 arrests, including felony drug cocaine trafficking and battery charges.

Times staff writer Michael A. Mohammed contributed to this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes and (727) 893-8801.