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Darryl Strawberry Sentenced to Drug Treatment Program

Aired May 17, 2001 - 10:49   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go right now to Tampa, Florida, and the courtroom where Judge Foster is about to issue a sentence on Darryl Strawberry

JUDGE FLORENCE FOSTER: Did you have anything you wish to say before I announce sentence?

JOE FICARROTTA, STRAWBERRY'S ATTORNEY: Yeah, very briefly, your honor. I'd just like to say a few words.

First of all, both Mr. Strawberry and I realize that the court has already made a decision, and it's a decision that's been granted from the heart. And I know that the court spent a lot of time and energy and put your heart in this case and as you do to all of the people that come before you, your honor.

Judge, I just had a real enlightenment. I was back there with Mr. Strawberry for the last 10 or 15 minutes and I was in the -- in the lockdown in the facility where he was at. And all you got to do is look -- you just look at the walls. I'm sure you could take everybody in this courtroom back there and in -- on the walls it had all different types of sayings. It had about drugs, about -- and this is -- this is the lockdown over there.

Judge, Mr. Strawberry is a -- is a sick individual, but he's a person who can be rehabilitated, judge. And his situation is very unique compared to most other people, and you've heard testimony from the doctors: Dr. Sidney Marin (ph), Dr. Charles Walker (ph) and Dr. Jonathan Lapuke (ph). And I think Judge Evans (ph) said it best when he said that science is the answer.

To understand drug court, you have to understand drug addiction. And in order to understand drug addiction, you have to be able to look at what the experts and science says and what science says, based on their examination of Darryl Strawberry is, your honor, is that he has -- he has various problems that need to be addressed.

And it's our position, quite candidly, is that the prison setting is not the right setting here. I mean, I think what the court's real concern is here is, no question he needs treatment, but the question is where that treatment should be at. Should it be in the Department of the Corrections facility or should it be in an outside facility and we submit that that's Phoenix House. The judge -- your honor, I know you've done so much in this case and Mr. Strawberry and I, no matter what the decision is, that we're going to abide by it. But the bottom line is, judge, that Mr. Strawberry needs help. He wants to get help and he's a person who deserves help.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Water (ph), did you want to say something?

FOSTER: Yes, Mr. Strawberry, was there anything you wished to say, sir?

DARRYL STRAWBERRY, FORMER BASEBALL PLAYER: Yes, I would like to say a few things. Yes, your honor, I would like to say this case is not about Darryl Strawberry, baseball star. This case is about -- is about a person that's very sick but a very -- been very sick for a very long time and needs a great deal of help. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tremendous amount of pressure for me to get the help.

And I just think with the right decision and the right place -- that I am placed that I can get the help that I need for once and for all so I can stay off of the drugs, you know. And, you know, with the help of God that I believe in, it will relieve me from my drug abuse and I just -- I just thank God that I'm alive today and I'm here to be in front of you and deal with this situation.

FOSTER: Mr. Water.

WATER: Judge, just briefly. Your honor, you knew that the state's -- the state's position is well known and we based that on the fact that he's had five opportunities in the past to succeed at drug treatment centers. And it is our position that sending him to the Phoenix House would not be in his best interest.

We'd be putting him right back into the same element that he has failed at five different, previous times. And it's the state's position that to go to a facility such as the Department of Corrections in Florida where he can be treated, as we had the testimony last time or with as close to 100 percent compliance as possible, that it would be the -- that would be in the best interest of Darryl Strawberry. And it's the state's position at this point, it's time to save Darryl Strawberry's life by doing that for him.

FOSTER: I have prepared a sentencing order in this case.

This matter came before the court on the defendant's violation of probation, which was heard on May the 4th, 2001. The court, after considering the violation of probation, numerous treatment centers, the court file, records, testimony of witnesses, argument of counsel and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, hereby finds and rules as follows:

On May 26, 1999, the defendant pled no contest to both counts, was sentenced and a judgment was entered placing the defendant on 18 months drug offender probation for possession of cocaine, three-tenths of gram, in count one. And 12 months probation for soliciting another to commit prostitution in count two. Both sentences were concurrent. Adjudication of guilt was withheld.

Special conditions included, but are not limited to, the required successful completion of a recommended treatment program, including after-care, as directed by the defendant's probation officer or any treatment center where the defendant was receiving treatment, weekly counseling, random urine testing minimum of twice weekly. Said urine testing was permitted, to be completed by major league baseball but the results thereof had to be furnished to the court.

Additionally, no consumption of any alcoholic beverages nor visit any location where the main source of income was the sale of alcoholic beverages, completion of 100 hours of community service to be done at the rate of five hours a month, not to frequent areas identified by the Department of Corrections and law enforcement as a high crime area. And lastly, payment of court costs.

In the event all conditions were met, a motion to terminate probation could be submitted to the court for consideration after 12 months. On January the 19th, 2000, the defendant tested positive for cocaine when urine tested by major league baseball. Thereafter, on February the 8th, 2000, a violation report was submitted for violating that condition. This resulted in suspension from the New York Yankees and an updated substance abuse evaluation, an increase to three urine screens a week, regular attendance at NA and AA meetings.

Following these events, on March the 1st, 2000, the defendant voluntarily entered into an inpatient treatment facility, the Handily Higgilton Center (ph), in West Palm Beach, Florida. On March 29, 2000, the defendant completed this 28-day program and began extended care at the same facility. Then, on April 25, 2000, the defendant left the program voluntarily and admitted himself into Sobrinity (ph) in Fort Lauderdale. Subsequently, he was discharged on January the 21st, 2000 for failing to provide a reasonable explanation for his whereabouts and behavior when violating his curfew.

Notwithstanding, the first formal violation of probation occurred on September 11, 2000 -- the first formal violation. The defendant was observed operating his vehicle in an erratic manner, striking a road sign and then continuing on to hit an automobile. At the scene, the defendant was observed to be unaware of what was going on and had a staggering gauge (ph). Accordingly, the defendant was given a field sobriety breath and urine tests. The defendant was charged with driving while intoxicated. The results of the tests were negative. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's office also charged the defendant with leaving the scene of an accident with property damage.

At the first violation of probation hearing, the court noted the defendant had undergone extensive abdominal cancer surgery and required kidney removal in August of 2000. The court further noted that the defendant was on a regiment of prescription medications, in accordance with his continued medical care. Thus, after the defendant pled guilty to the violation of probation, this court revoked the previous supervision order placing the defendant on two years community control. The defendant's license was suspended, and he was instructed to follow his doctor's orders, taking medication only as directed.

On October 6, 2000, the defendant was admitted to Health Care Connections (ph), a program specializing in treatment of addictions and related disorders. The defendant received an intensive inpatient evaluation addressing his addiction, as well as psychological issues. The defendant, after relapsing, struggled internally with his desire to recover. As a consequence, the defendant initially resisted chemotherapy treatments.

These treatments caused the defendant physical sickness, thereby precluding continuous treatment in the program. At times, the defendant refused chemotherapy treatment. While on community control, the defendant was struggling with physical issues of his health and chemotherapy as well as his substance abuse addiction. These struggles have caused a decline in his physical and emotional health.

The second violation occurred on October the 21st and 22nd of 2000. The defendant acknowledges the violation by admitting -- acknowledged the violation by admitting to his community control officer that he left his approved residence, Health Care Connections, smoked crack cocaine and took approximately 10 Zantac pills. Thereafter, on October the 23rd, 2000, a drug screen was taken and Mr. Strawberry tested positive for cocaine and benzodiazapenes.

On November the 9th, 2000, the defendant pled guilty to the second violation of probation. A judgment and sentence were entered revoking the previous supervision order, adjudicating the defendant guilty, sentencing him to 30 days in the Hillsborough county jail, an electric monitor, two years of community control, followed by one year of drug offender probation, successful completion of the Health Care Connections inpatient treatment program, three urine tests per week, no consumption of any alcoholic beverages, attend three AA/NA meetings per week and standard costs.

After release from county jail on November 4, 2000, credit for time served, the defendant resumed treatment at Health Care Connections. A technical violation, his third, occurred on February 28, 2001 when the defendant left the approved residence, Health Care Connections, and went to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, division of driver licenses, and picked up an application for a hardship license.

The community control officer did not provide defendant with prior permission, nor did the officer have prior knowledge of such an event until retrieving a message from the defendant. The community control officer did verify the defendant's presence at the Department of Driver's License and arrived at the treatment center -- arrival at the treatment center immediately thereafter.

The court took notice that all urinalysis tests were negative as of March the 1st, 2001, with no other noted deviations. On said date, the community control officer received a call at 11:30 p.m. from the monitoring company. The company indicated the defendant's transmitter was out of range and the defendant was not at the approved residence. The community control officer was informed, telephoned and responded to the residence. The defendant was confirmed not present at the residence or the surrounding community. Health Care Connections verified the defendant's presence at a group until 6:45 p.m.

At the violation hearing, the defendant conceded defeat in his struggle with the -- at the violation hearing, the defendant conceded defeat with his struggle with the demons of addiction and to offer -- he conceded defeat with his struggle with the demons of addiction when offered crack cocaine on the way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He succumbed and smoked the crack. This triggered his relapse and the violation of probation now at issue.

The sentencing guidelines in this case score the defendant at 34.7 total sentence points. The state acknowledges that the court has discretion to sentence the defendant within the permitted range from community supervision up to, and including, Florida State Prison. Pursuant to this discretion, the state is requesting the court to sentence the defendant to 18 months Florida State Prison, followed by a period of community control.

In support thereof, the state submits the defendant was probably considered one of the best baseball players in the country. He played in the World Series, made money and was on top of the world. Notwithstanding, the defendant engaged in criminal activity and continued to violate his probation by repeatedly smoking crack cocaine despite each opportunity given by the court. The state contends the defendant's punishment must have teeth and certainty and points out the social ramifications resulting from dug abuse that affect the defendant, the people the defendant encounters and neighborhood infestation.

Further, the state alleges this is an epidemic causing widespread ramifications throughout society and strikes at the integrity of our judicial system.

After four formal violations, the state requests this court to hold the defendant responsible and accountable. The state alleges the only -- the only reasonable alternative for the defendant to kick his addiction is to put him in prison. Per that end, the state requests a sentence of Florida State Prison as opposed to Phoenix House, a less secure drug treatment center.

Although not required to set forth a written statement absent departure, this court is aware of the defendant's celebrity status as well as the public's keen interest and involvement in the issues surrounding drug addictions. It is important to note that celebrity status is irrelevant in this case. Likewise, disease in general, whether a drug addiction or not, is not influenced by status, wealth, race, gender, religious beliefs or national origin. Thus, this court explores the various discretionary alternatives while balancing the interests of the state of Florida and the interests of the defendant.

If the defendant were to be incarcerated in a accordance with the state's request, would the gravity of the harm be out of proportion to the gravity of the fault? Is the defendant's need for ongoing medical treatment significant? Is the defendant curable? Is the defendant amenable to treatment?

The purpose of the sentencing guidelines is to eliminate unwarranted variations in sentencing. As a general rule, courts are advised to avoid imposing sentences that depart from the recommended guidelines unless there are circumstances or factors that reasonably justify aggravating or mitigating the sentence. This court finds that there are no aggravating factors that would justify an upward departure. In considering the evidence, this court has discretion to determine whether, based on a preponderance of the evidence, the defendant should be placed in Florida State Prison or Phoenix House.

The testimony of Dr. Emil Dameff -- Dameff -- D-A-M-E-F-F, on behalf of the state, explained the way drug abuse causes depressions, which is legislatively precluded as legal justification for mitigation. As Regional Medical Director -- Regional Medical Executive Director of the Florida Department of Corrections, Dr. Dameff provided credible testimony regarding inmate evaluations, assignment, treatment and the primary mission of the Department of Corrections. Dr. Dameff described dual diagnosis, the importance of compliance with treatment and the necessary removal of the offending agents: cocaine.

On cross, Dr. Dameff conceded that the primary objective of the Department of Corrections is to incarcerate and to protect the public from the individual. The doctor also conceded the presence of illegal drugs in the prison system. He confirmed the department must evaluate the defendant's needs prior to assignment to a facility. All determinations are based on which facility would best suit that individual.

The state extensively questioned each of the witnesses called by the defense. Dr. Charles Walker, a psychiatrist of 30 years specializing primarily in depression and bipolar disorder, testified that the defendant is suffering from Bipolar II disorder, also known as recurrent major depression with occasional hypomanic episodes.

Dr. Sidney Marin, a psychologist of 40 years specializing in clinical psychology and neuropsychology, described and defined the defendant's personality. He examined the defendant's medical history, potential genetic predispositions and administered personality tests. The doctor compared cognitive and executive functions of the brain and explained adverse psychological effects of long-term drug abuse. Additionally, Dr. Marin commented on addictive personalities and clarified how triggering events cause uncontrollable cravings that appear willful in outward expression as distinguished from voluntary willful behavior.

Finally, Dr. Jonathan Lapuke, an internist and gasteroenterologist 21 years, initially diagnosed and surgically removed the visible colon cancer from the defendant. Dr. Lapuke testified about the aggressiveness of the cancer, its recurrence, surgical procedures and the necessity for continuation of chemotherapy treatments in a therapeutic environment.

His uncontroverted testimony established that it is impossible to separate out the various treatments from each of the defendant's conditions. He stated that the addictions, depressions and cancer much each be treated together and carefully since the defendant has only one kidney and requires continuing chemotherapy. Dr. Lapuke emphasized the disastrous consequences that could arise if the defendant were placed in the wrong setting.

The Vice President and Regional Director of Phoenix House of Florida Finn Kavanagh described their primary mission. He explained that the Phoenix House is a model that was created, in part, by drug addicts for drug addicts. His testimony was that Phoenix House is a very structured environment providing a more restrictive level of health care than Health Care Connections.

He described Phoenix House as a therapeutic community that treats the whole person with professional staff and accountable environment, a high level of peer confrontation and a behavioral focus. Mr. Kavanagh advised the court that Phoenix House was federally funded and classified as a community-based level free treatment facility of the Department of Corrections.

In the -- in the event they are unable to treat the defendant, Mr. Kavanagh testified an intervention could be staged with the help of their on-site probation officers and the defendant's probation would be violated. This defendant is unique in his -- in that his cancer is certainly unrelated to substance abuse or addiction.

This court finds that you are in need of specialized treatment in your severe depression, drugs addictions and cancer. You have indicated your willingness to fight the demons of addiction, to fix your -- quote -- "broken brain" and figure out and correct your behavioral shortcomings. Accordingly, based on each of the factors taken together as a whole insight of the totality of the circumstances, this court finds Mr. Strawberry is currently amenable to treatment and he needs treatment.

The preponderance of evidence suggests that the defendant would be better served at the present time in Phoenix House as opposed to Florida State Prison. This court recognizes if we were to analogize to a 9th inning baseball game that you are at-bat in the bottom of the 9th with two strikes against you. You have proven that you're a winner on the field. Now you must prove that you are a winner off the field.

It is therefore ordered and adjudged Mr. Strawberry will be conditionally sentenced to 18 months Florida State Prison, suspended, concurrently split with two years of community control, which shall be followed consecutively by one year of drug offender probation. There is a possibility of early rollover after one year of community control.

A specific condition of community control would be for the defendant to successfully complete each phase of the program at Phoenix House. Mr. Strawberry shall have all standard conditions of drug offender probation, including, at a minimum, the random urine tests performed, no consumption of any alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs, attending three NA or AA meetings per week, no frequenting areas defined by the Department of Corrections and law enforcement as high crime areas and standard costs.

As a special condition, you must perform 100 hours of community service by speaking to young people about your story: your battle with cancer, depression and addiction and your path to recovery.

The parties have 30 days to appeal the judgment and sentence of the court.

The court is adjourned on this case.

HARRIS: And with that, as you see, Darryl Strawberry now walking away from his moment facing the judge here -- Judge Foster there in Tampa, Florida. And it looks as though Darryl Strawberry will not be going to prison.

The prosecution in this case had been asking for imprisonment of up to 18 months for Darryl Strawberry but that was given by the judge only in a suspended form. We understand that he is going to be -- has an 18-month prison sentence that has been suspended, but he does have to spent at least one year in a community controlled situation at the -- and getting some sort of treatment because I think she was talking about him going back to Phoenix House, the house that has been treating him up to this point. He's going to have to stay there for at least one more year. And also on top of that is more 100 hours of community service in which, she says, he is supposed to be telling his story to young people.

The judge described Mr. Strawberry's situation to himself as is -- as though he is in the bottom of the 9th inning and he is at-bat with two strikes against him.

This judge has been known to give people before her as many chances as possible. And apparently, after reading such a long list of chances that Darryl Strawberry has had up to this point, she feels he deserves one more.



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