tampabay.com

Ballplayer's wife: He threatened me, kids

Rays' Elijah Dukes is under a restraining order - again.

By EDUARDO ENCINA and ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published May 23, 2007


TAMPA - In late April, Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes barged into his wife's middle school classroom at lunchtime.

He was so irate that she ran to get the principal and a deputy, who banned Dukes from the property, records show.

His wife, who said she fears for her life, sought a restraining order and told the court it was the latest in a string of outbursts by the 22-year-old rookie player.

Dukes' wife, NiShea Gilbert, 26, a teacher at Beth Shields Middle School in Ruskin, told the court in another filing Thursday that her husband threatened to kill her and sent a photo of a handgun to her cell phone.

She played the St. Petersburg Times a voice mail message she said was from Dukes:

"You dead, dawg," says an angry voice. "I ain't even bulls-------. Your kids, too."

Dukes is in his first season with the Devil Rays, and his eight home runs - the most by any American League rookie - speak to his professional promise.

But Dukes' personal life is a mess. Twice in the last month, the wife of the Tampa native and former Hillsborough High standout has filed requests for protection against him. A court hearing on her latest request is May 30.

"I just don't think I should live in fear," said Gilbert. "When (the Rays) go out of town, I come home. When they're at home, I go stay with my mother. I shouldn't have to live like that because he's a baseball player."

Dukes, when approached after batting practice Tuesday evening, declined to discuss the allegations.

"I'm just going to play ball, that's it," he said. "I've got to go. I've got a video game to finish."

He referred to a statement provided by Rick Vaughn, team vice president.

"The end of our marriage is a personal matter for my wife and me," the statement reads. "Out of respect for my family, especially my children, I wish to keep our proceedings private."

Andrew Friedman, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations, said he was aware of the marital strife, but he knew nothing about allegations of threats.

"I think it's premature to comment on it," he said. "This is the first that we've heard of it. ... The only knowledge we had was that this was a messy divorce. But obviously not the extent that she's stating."

After the school incident, Gilbert filed a request for a restraining order. It was dropped when she missed a court hearing. She filed a second request Thursday.

In it, she said she missed the hearing because one of her children was in the hospital. She said she has received other death threats in recent weeks, including the message she says Dukes left May 2 on her phone.

Here's what the voice on the machine says:

"Hey, dawg. It's on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain't even bulls-------. Your kids too, dawg. It don't even matter to me who is in the car with you. N-----, all I know is, n-----, when I see your m-----f------- a-- riding, dawg, it's on. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to your m-----f------ house."

She also says Dukes called her and told her to check her cell phone.

He sent a text message with a photo of a handgun, she said.

"Elijah continues to call me telling me he is going to kill me and texting me pictures of a gun," she wrote in her request to the court. "I am scared for my life and my kids' life."

However, Gilbert did not call police about those threats, saying she saw the restraining order as an "alternative" way of protecting herself.

"People kept telling me it would mess up his career," said Gilbert, who said both family and friends told her not to press charges against Dukes.

But deputies have been called four times to deal with the couple's domestic issues, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter.

In 2003, Gilbert accused Dukes of throwing a remote control at her. In April 2004, she accused him of harassing phone calls. Later that year, she said he hit her with a soda can, threw a glass candy bowl and ripped a phone cord out of the wall when she tried to call 911. In August 2006, deputies arrested Gilbert, accusing her of scratching her husband's back during an argument. The charge was dropped in September.

Court records show that Dukes was sentenced to probation in February 2005 for a charge of domestic battery. They also show that Gilbert received a yearlong restraining order against Dukes in October 2004. But the incident involved in those cases was unclear Tuesday.

In October 2005, another Tampa woman, Carla Bryant, the mother of Dukes' oldest child, filed for a domestic violence restraining order against Dukes. A judge ordered that he stay away from her for a year. Bryant claimed Dukes threatened her over the phone.

Dukes was ordered to attend an anger management course.

Reached Tuesday, Bryant declined to say why she filed for protection. She said she was "going through complicated issues" at the time. Her grandfather was ailing. Dukes was trying to be more involved in their daughter's life.

"We've resolved an issue that we probably could have dealt with ourselves," Bryant said. "As far as anything domestic, I haven't had any altercations with him recently, and anything in the past, I'd like to leave it there."

The pair have a daughter. Bryant had no complaints about Dukes' treatment of the child.

Four women have gone to court seeking child support from Dukes. In all four cases, the court found Dukes was the father, meaning he has at least five children by four women. Two of those women were pregnant at the same time, giving birth in 2003 within eight days of each other.

Gilbert met Dukes when she was a student in 2003 at the University of South Florida. She filed for child support in March 2004 after the couple's first child was born. He was ordered to pay $222.26 a month.

During her second pregnancy, she sought and won a yearlong restraining order against him. A judge ordered him to attend a certified batterers' intervention program and substance abuse evaluation.

She noticed little improvement in his behavior, she said.

After the child was born, Dukes proposed. The couple married Feb. 27, 2006. They have a 3-year-old son and a daughter nearly 2.

Life only got more frustrating after the marriage, she said.

"We went to the courthouse in Brandon and got married and things have gone downhill ever since," she said. "My life has been turned upside down since I've been dealing with him."

Gilbert once filed for divorce but changed her mind. Now, she says she plans to file for divorce again.

On April 30, Gilbert was in her classroom at Shields Middle School when she heard a banging on the door. Her students were at lunch. Another teacher answered the door.

"It was Elijah (my husband) coming toward me at my desk stating he was going to beat my a-- and kill me," Gilbert wrote in her request for a restraining order.

Dukes later left the room and walked through the school's halls, she wrote. Gilbert and her co-worker ran to the school's front office.

"I told them to get the deputy because he was acting out of his mind," she said in an interview. "I told them, 'Just have him escorted off. I don't want him to go to jail. Just make him leave.'"

Deputy Theresa Montaldo tried to calm him down. When principal Tom Scott arrived, he admonished Dukes, Gilbert said.

Dukes was ordered to leave campus.

"Estranged wife is employee," the trespass warning reads. "He came to see her - very irate."

Dukes, who grew up in Sulphur Springs, saw his father convicted of second-degree murder when he was 11. Elijah Dukes Sr. received a 20-year prison sentence for shooting a man who sold his wife $100 worth of fake crack cocaine.

Dukes, who makes the major-league minimum $380,000, is considered one of the best all-around athletes on the Rays, with a mix of speed and power that some scouts predict could make him one of the game's top players. He made the jump to the majors this season and earned some playing time, then took over as the starting centerfielder when Rocco Baldelli was injured last week.

Before he moved up to the major leagues, Dukes had on-field confrontations last season with a coach and a teammate while with Devil Rays' Triple-A affiliate Durham. He was suspended for 30 games.

Dukes was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession during a traffic stop on Jan. 15. A hearing is scheduled for June 4.

"He's trying to act like he's made a change," Gilbert said. "He's made no changes. He's gotten worse. He says that since he plays baseball, 'No one can f--- with me.'"

Dukes' agent, Scott Pucino, questioned Gilbert's motives in making allegations against the athlete.

"I don't know those to be true," Pucino said. "I do know I think she is clearly using the media to leverage this divorce proceeding. There's money involved, and unfortunately she's going to the media."

But Pucino and the Devil Rays both says Dukes' behavior has improved.

"He has made a lot of strides, but obviously this is something that certainly requires our attention," Friedman, of the Rays, said.

Times researchers Cathy Wos and John Martin and staff writers Marc Topkin and Kevin Graham contributed to this report.

Fast Facts:

Elijah Dukes' children

Date of birth     Mother     Gender

Nov. 25, 2003     NiShea Gilbert     boy

Dec. 3, 2003     Carla Bryant     girl

June 7, 2004     Shantell Mitchell     boy

June 16, 2005     NiShea Gilbert     girl

July 19, 2006     Porcia Daniels     girl