Rutgers football player suspended

Team bans sophomore facing charges in gun incidents on campus

Saturday, March 08, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff

A promising Rutgers University football player facing weapons charges for pulling a fake gun in two incidents on campus was suspended from the team yesterday, officials said.

Justin Francis, a 19-year-old sophomore reserve defensive tackle, was charged with robbery and weapons violations for displaying the fake gun and demanding a cell phone from a man in a university parking lot Sunday night at the Silvers Apartments in New Brunswick, according to police.

Later he entering a nearby on-campus apartment, pointing the fake gun at a student and pulling the trigger several times, police say.

No one was injured in either of the incidents. Charges against Francis, however, are indictable, and Rutgers Police and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office are working on the investigation, police said.

"Even if it's an imitation weapon," said Rutgers Police Lt. Amy Hackett, "if it's used in the commission of a crime, it's considered to be possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes."

Pete Hendricks, an attorney from New Brunswick who represents Francis, said, "From our perspective it's still in the investigative stage. We're still trying to determine the facts."

Francis was arrested at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Silvers Apartments on the Bush campus, and was held overnight in the Middlesex County jail in lieu of $20,000. He posted bail late last night.

An e-mail alert was sent Monday across the university's New Brunswick and Piscataway campuses by Rutgers Police. According to the alert, one of the victims was walking near the Silvers Apartments around 11:50 p.m. on Sunday when he was approached by a man displaying a black-and-silver handgun who demanded a cell phone. After receiving the phone, the perpetrator handed it back and left.

About ten minutes later, a person sleeping in his apartment bedroom was awakened by a man knocking on his door, according to the alert. When he opened the door, the suspect "pointed a handgun at him and pulled the trigger three times before laughing and fleeing the area," the alert said.

The person in the second incident didn't believe the handgun was real and no shots were fired from the gun, which only made a clicking sound when the trigger was pulled, according to the alert.

Francis was officially charged with robbery, possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes and possession of a weapon on university property for the cell phone incident. Those charges, as well as burglary and terrorist threats, were added for entering the apartment and threatening a student, police said.

Francis, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound native of Miramar, Fla., who played in seven Scarlet Knights games as a true freshman last year and became a backup, was expected to be a major contributor on defense this year. He is enrolled at the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.

Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano spoke about the arrest at a news conference on campus yesterday.

'I don't have a ton of information," Schiano said. "I'm going to let the legal system, as I usually do, run its course and I may comment on it then. But he has been suspended from our team indefinitely."

A university spokesman, E.J. Miranda, said any student charged with a criminal offense is also charged with a violation of the university's code of student conduct, which calls for an internal investigation and potential sanctions.


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