Dream deferred

Muir’s Youngblood claims unjustified arrest cost him football scholarships

By Andre Coleman 09/11/2008

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Claiming negative press from a wrongful arrest led to several colleges pulling scholarship offers off the table, a former John Muir High School star football player has filed a claim against the city and the Pasadena Unified School District for $125,000.

Pasadena police arrested Willie Youngblood Jr. in February — six weeks after 11 other students were arrested in connection with a fight that began when several African-American girls with gang ties attacked Latino girls on the John Muir campus.

Within days of the Dec. 14 melee, police arrested nine girls and two boys who were eventually charged with assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury and with battery, with added penalty enhancements for alleged gang affiliations and allegedly committing hate crimes.

The accused, all juveniles, were also expelled from PUSD but ultimately were sentenced to probation in a juvenile court hearing.

The 5-foot 8-inch, 200-pound Youngblood scored 19 touchdowns on 1,280 rushing yards that season and, according to published reports, was focusing on raising his 2.9 grade point average to at least 3.5 to become even more attractive to college scouts.

But that all changed in February when police stationed at John Muir High School came to Youngblood’s classroom and asked to speak with him.

“They asked him to come out and answer questions about an incident at a basketball game,” said his attorney Philip Koebel. “He said he did not know anything about what they asked, and when he turned to go back in the class they manhandled him and wrestled him to the floor. The city’s partnership with the police district and the schools does not allow them to breach protocol and procedure.”

Booked on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, Youngblood was released three days later when prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to charge him.

After the arrest became front-page news, Koebel said scouts subsequently became uninterested in Youngblood, who is now playing football at Glendale City College and would not comment on this story due to pending litigation.

“As you may know, Mr. Youngblood Jr. was an exceptional scholar-athlete at John Muir High School,” Koebel wrote in the claim. “As a running back with the football team, he was regularly featured in local newspapers and he led the team into the playoffs year after year. He had plans to attend a four-year university, and he had received attention from more than half a dozen schools interested in awarding him a football scholarship. Before the wrongful arrest, several schools had verbally assured him that they would give him a football scholarship for two or four years.

“Since the wrongful arrest,” Koebel continued, “my client has been shut out of any scholarship offers and he has had to abandon his plans to attend a four-year university. His reputation has been irreparably harmed and his future earnings have been unnecessarily limited.” 

According to Koebel, Youngblood was simply walking on campus when he saw the melee and unsuccessfully attempted to break it up.

Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education member Renatta Cooper, a vocal critic of police patrolling local campuses, said she was disturbed by the way Youngblood was treated.

“I know he was being considered for scholarships and I always thought it was awful that so much fuss was made about his arrest — and when the charges were dismissed it didn’t get the same play,” Cooper said. “I have major issues about the police presence in our schools and I think they are criminalizing adolescents. I think, by and large, the police presence intimidates young men. I know you can’t learn when you are feeling intimidated.” 

Pasadena police officers have been providing security at local schools since 2006, when budget cuts forced the district to eliminate its own police force.

Interim Pasadena Police Chief Chris Vicino said his officers did not act inappropriately.
“Our investigators looked at all aspects of that case. It was investigated thoroughly and presented to the DA and as far as we are concerned it was a good arrest based on the evidence in front of us at the time,” Vicino told the Weekly. “There was not a rush to judgment.”

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