ATLANTA — The 400 block of Jones Avenue is the backside of the new South. The modern skyline of Atlanta rises just on the other side of the Omni, the downtown arena that forms a barrier between post-card Atlanta and this deteriorated neighborhood, whose steady commerce, authorities say, is drugs.
It is here in this area of ramshackle frame homes, trash-strewn lots and narrow streets that, according to police, the troubles of Chip Banks, former USC, San Diego Charger and all-pro linebacker, began.
Just a day short of a year ago, police said they spotted Banks stop his late-model imported luxury car with California tags on Jones Avenue. Three officers watched as Banks allowed a man to enter his car and conduct what they suspected was a drug deal.
Banks was followed for several miles before he was stopped. He was arrested when officers found a small amount of what later was identified as marijuana on the console area of his car.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 16, 1989 Home Edition Sports Part 3 Page 4 Column 1 Sports Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Contrary to a story in Wednesday's editions of The Times, the San Diego Chargers acquired linebacker Chip Banks from the Cleveland Browns in 1987 in a trade that involved the teams' exchanging positions in the first and second rounds of that year's National Football League draft.
Banks was not tried on that charge. Instead, the case was set aside in August, after Banks completed a pretrial diversion program. The charge was up for dismissal if he remained out of trouble for two years. But Banks' difficulties with authorities were only beginning.
Since that February night, Banks has been arrested and released on bond three more times. He was stopped twice--in October and again in November--in and around the downtown area on drug charges, and most recently was arrested after a 20-year-old woman said Banks held her against her will in his northern Atlanta condominium Jan. 11 and forced her to commit sodomy. The woman, then eight months pregnant, also said that Banks made her smoke crack cocaine with him.
Police said they found what they believe to be marijuana residue on a television set and a pipe made from a soda can that was used to smoke rock cocaine. A Fulton County grand jury is expected to consider an indictment in the latest case next month.
Any new indictment would be in addition to charges Banks faces from his October arrest. Banks was indicted in December on one count each of cocaine possession with intent to distribute, and possession of less than an once of marijuana. Police said they found the drugs during a search of Banks' car after he was stopped during a routine roadblock. The arrest was made just a block south of Jones Avenue in a neighborhood that authorities describe as a "known drug area."
As for what Banks, a four-time all-pro linebacker who did not play last season because of a contract dispute with the Chargers, was doing in that area of Atlanta has so far been left to authorities to explain. They suspect he was there to do what many outsiders go to Jones Avenue to do--buy drugs.
If that is so, if Banks, 29, does have a drug problem, no one is saying. Not Banks. Not his lawyer. Not his agent. All three either declined to be interviewed on the subject or failed to return telephone calls. A recent visit to Banks' Atlanta condominium revealed only shutters closed, lights off, the garage door shut and a note attached to the door.
That Banks has kept a low profile is not surprising. He has never been one to seek publicity.
When asked his occupation by police after his arrest last February, Banks said he was a self-employed landscaper. He mentioned nothing about professional football and because he was booked under his given first name of William--Chip is a nickname--his arrest did not draw attention.
Even in good times, he gave interviews sparingly. Neither did he save his reserved manner just for reporters. Banks could be a mystery to teammates as well.
"Some of the guys on the Chargers thought he was strange," said Curtis Rouse, a retired offensive lineman who played with Banks at Laney High School in Augusta, Ga., and with the Chargers in 1987. "He kept to himself. He didn't talk around the locker room. They asked me what was wrong. I told them for Chip, that was normal."
Such private ways have made this period extra difficult for his family and those who have known him through the years. They wonder if Banks can return to the National Football League. They wonder if Atlanta, the city where Banks has made his off-season home the last several years, is the right place for him to be these days. They wonder if he is getting the right advice, the proper help or, if necessary, medical care.
Few worry more than his mother, Nancy Ashley. She has not talked with Banks since a terse conversation six weeks ago and has not seen her son in more than a year.
"He was irritated," said Ashley, who was divorced from Banks' father when Chip was young. "I asked him how he was doing and he said he was all right. But I know he is not all right.
"(His friends) tell me that Chip is going to be all right, but I don't know. What are they going to do to make him all right? He needs somebody to come down there and just put him in the hospital. I don't know if there is anybody who can do that, but they haven't so far."