ALBANY, Ga. -- Former basketball star Dontonio Wingfield spoke out for the first time about his recent arrest, telling The Albany Herald Monday he had nothing to do with the drugs that the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit have linked to a passenger in Wingfield's vehicle.
Saying some of the criticism that has been leveled at him since his July 19 arrest was "political," Wingfield told The Herald, "I had nothing to do with any type of drugs."
Wingfield's attorney, Nikki Bonner with the Atlanta-based N. Giovanni, Bonner & Associates firm, said Monday his office's conversations with the Dougherty District Attorney's office left him confident that no drug charges would be filed against Wingfield, who was charged with driving with a suspended license and having an improper tag.
Bonner said Chauncey Carter, the passenger in Wingfield's rented Tahoe, had claimed the drugs and drug paraphernalia in the vehicle as his own.
"My office has had conversations with Mr. (Greg) Edwards in the D.A.'s office there, and I don't believe there will be further charges brought against my client," Bonner said. "The other person involved in the incident (Carter) has, I believe, claimed the drugs were his.
"Based on everything we've heard from the D.A.'s office, I don't see further charges being filed against Mr. Wingfield."
Messages left with Brumby Montgerard in the district attorney's office were not returned by press time Monday.
When Wingfield's vehicle was pulled over during a routine traffic stop downtown, police say a passenger in the vehicle, later identified as Carter, attempted to flee. While running from police, Carter dropped a bag that contained 10 bags of marijuana.
Carter was later apprehended and charged with obstruction of an officer, tampering with evidence and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
Wingfield said Monday he "made a bad decision" in giving Carter a ride, but the former Westover Comprehensive High School star defended his action by noting that Carter is someone he's known most of his life.
"Yes, he had a bag when he got in my truck, but I didn't ask him what was in it," Wingfield said. "I didn't see anything wrong with giving someone I'd known almost all my life a ride."
Wingfield and James Nix, who have worked together in the Save Our Sons nonprofit organization designed to give inner city youngsters an alternative to gang life, composed an e-mail that they sent to supporters in the community. In the e-mail, Wingfield writes:
"I ask you to please understand that I would never intentionally do anything that would harm my family, my organization or my supporters. ... I would like to take this opportunity to say that I am not nor have (I) ever been involved with drug dealing. I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I love what I do, I love my community and I love the children I work with. ...
"The kids I love and serve have many problems. Some come from broken homes or neighborhoods where success stories are far and few between. The S.O.S. organization has taught me and the children we serve that no matter where you are from, your past, your family history or status in life, you can succeed.
"I once was a very broken man; physically, mentally and spiritually. The Albany Hawks (a youth basketball program), S.O.S., Henderson Gym rebuilt me. I need them far more than they will ever need me. I have found my true purpose in life. I may never outlive my past -- don't know if I even want to -- it is part of who I am. It ties me to my community, and it gives me compassion for the children I serve and love so much. ..."
Wingfield's past includes a troubled career at Westover, during which he led his team to four state championships, and a one-year stay at the University of Cincinnati before he made himself eligible for the NBA draft. Wingfield's promising NBA career was cut short by an automobile accident that almost killed him.
The youth volunteer said some of the criticism he's received in the wake of his recent arrest has left him feeling much as he did when he was a troubled schoolboy basketball star.
"There have been people in the community -- even a pastor who I thought was my friend -- who have taken shots at me," Wingfield said. "That hurts; it kind of goes back to my younger days when I was playing ball when people would build me up on the one hand and tear me down on the other.
"Some of it, I feel, is political."
Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit Commander Maj. Bill Berry said Monday any further action taken against Wingfield would be determined by Montgerard and the district attorney's office.
"Like we would in any case, we've turned over information we've gathered to the full-time prosecutor who works with us (Montgerard)," Berry said. "She reviews all the information, pulls in the officers involved and talks with them, and the case goes from there. She'll decide if the charges will be added to, taken away from or changed.
"As far as our part of the case, nothing has changed. It's in (the district attorney's) hands."
Wingfield said he will serve an "in-house suspension" from the S.O.S. program until "all of the facts in this case are out."