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Cassel's Crime: Drunk Driving

Bruin cornerback's suspension was planned, but not announced until Monday. Dorrell, Guerrero say problems not widespread.

September 03, 2003|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

The same problems that marred the UCLA football program in the latter stages of Bob Toledo's seven-year reign as coach -- and contributed to Toledo's firing last winter -- have crept into the early stages of the Karl Dorrell era.

Cornerback Marcus Cassel was suspended Monday from the Bruins' season opener at Colorado on Saturday because he had "violated team rules." Tuesday, it was learned that the reserve cornerback was arrested this summer on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.

According to Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, Cassel was "very forthright" in his handling of the situation, informing Dorrell of the arrest shortly after it had occurred. Dorrell decided in July to suspend Cassel for the first game but waited until Monday to announce the punishment, then mentioned only the violation of team rules.

The case seemed eerily familiar to that of former UCLA quarterback Cory Paus, who failed to notify Toledo of two DUI convictions in 2001, charges that, when they came to light, embarrassed the program. Dorrell and Guerrero insisted, however, that they were aware of Cassel's transgression soon after the arrest.

Besides Paus' arrests, cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. was arrested for felony assault, defensive lineman C.J. Niusulu for felony battery, and offensive lineman Shane Lehmann for misdemeanor assault in 2002, and defensive end Asi Faoa for assault in 2000.

The case against Manning was dismissed. Niusulu was sentenced to 120 days in jail, Lehmann was put on three years' probation and given 30 days' community service, and Faoa was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

In addition, tailback DeShaun Foster was suspended for four games in 2001 for an NCAA extra-benefits violation.

Guerrero, however, did not think one arrest in eight months with Dorrell at the helm constituted a rash of problems in the program.

"Obviously, our position is that the student-athlete maintain proper decorum at all times and represent his family and team with distinction," Guerrero said. "But the reality is, when you have more than 100 athletes in a program, there will be transgressions.

"Since Karl has been here, we've had one incident. I'm pleased with the way he handled the matter. He did what he had to do, and he wanted to make it known that this isn't the type of behavior we want in the program. But there isn't a growing pattern here....

"Some institutions internalize these things, punish the kid by making him run or do extra work, and it never rises above the radar. This situation occurred, the decision was made to sit him out a game, and it was made at the appropriate time."

Cassel, a 20-year-old sophomore from Carson, was arrested June 28 at 2:16 a.m. by the California Highway Patrol after he'd rammed his car in the center divider of the 405 Freeway in Long Beach. The impact of the crash knocked the left front wheel off Cassel's vehicle.

During a discussion with Cassel, CHP officer Joseph Pace detected an "odor of alcohol." But Cassel, according to Pace, refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. Cassel was booked into the Long Beach City Jail and posted $25,000 bond. A police report indicated that Cassel had prior arrests, but information on those charges was not available.

At an Aug. 8 pretrial hearing in Long Beach Municipal Court, Cassel was sentenced to five years of summary probation, meaning that if he breaks the law over the next five years, he will go to jail. Cassel's license was placed on a 90-day restriction, during which he can drive only to and from classes and work.

"The kid understands he made a mistake, he understands the consequences, and to me it's a dead issue," Dorrell said. "You can't control every element of their life. You want them to make wise decisions, but that's something you have to grow as a person to do."

Dorrell said he hoped the rest of his players would learn from Cassel's arrest, but he didn't think the arrest was indicative of a widespread problem.

"The same thing happens at the school across the street," Dorrell said, alluding to USC. "I don't think it plagues the program. It's something that happened away from here. We have 100 guys, and it's hard to get them all on the same page. To me it was a mistake, and he had to pay the penalty.

"We've addressed the players as a team, educated them about it, and they need to understand the ramifications of the issues that can surround the program. It's definitely a learning experience."

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Staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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