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USC's Justice Is Suspended

Offensive tackle punished after arrest on suspicion of felony assault.

March 07, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC's tumultuous off-season continued Saturday when the Trojans began spring practice without starting offensive tackle Winston Justice, who was suspended by the university after being arrested for the second time in a little more than eight months.

"It's a very difficult situation that he's put himself in," USC Coach Pete Carroll said. "I don't know what it's all going to mean until later. We'll just have to wait and see."

Justice's latest arrest reportedly stemmed from an incident near campus in late February.

According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department website, Justice was arrested Wednesday afternoon by Los Angeles Police officers at the Southwest Division. Justice was booked on suspicion of felony assault with a deadly weapon, though not a firearm.

Justice, 19, was released on $50,000 bail at 1:07 a.m. Thursday.

No court date has been set, according to the sheriff's website.

Justice could not be reached for comment.

"Winston is sad because he made some poor choices. He's sorry for what's happened," Justice's father, Gary, said Saturday night. "I'm confident that he's going to be exonerated."

USC announced Friday that Justice was ineligible for spring practice because of a "student conduct issue" but did not mention the latest arrest, which came one week after All-American wide receiver Mike Williams shook the program by announcing that he would take advantage of the recent Maurice Clarett ruling and turn pro.

Mark Jackson, an assistant athletic director in charge of football, said Saturday that Justice cannot attend classes for at least two weeks and would probably have to appear at a hearing before a student conduct board.

In 2001, former USC cornerback Marcell Allmond missed the season after he was suspended by the school for a semester because of his involvement in a fight with another student.

Justice, a two-year starter who would be regarded as an All-American candidate in the upcoming season, was previously arrested in June when he solicited an undercover police officer in a Long Beach prostitution sting operation. Justice pleaded no contest in July to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to three years of summary probation, fined $300 and ordered to undergo HIV testing and attend a court-approved AIDS class.

Carroll did not suspend Justice when fall practice began last season. The 6-foot 6-inch 300-pound Justice was put through extra conditioning as punishment and was not held out of any games as the Trojans finished 12-1 and won a share of their first national title in 25 years.

On Saturday, Carroll said he had not addressed Justice's situation with the team and probably would not do so until Tuesday. He would not specify what disciplinary action awaited Justice if he was allowed to return to the team.

"We don't really comment about what we're doing or how we do that kind of stuff," Carroll said. "We just keep our stuff in house and take care of business as we need to hopefully.

"I'm not privy to any of the information about this right now other than just conversations about it. So I don't have anything to decide or anything to do on it right now.

"I'm really not going to get real concerned about it other than for his welfare and the people involved. There's not much I can do. He's not here. He's off campus now."

Quarterback Matt Leinart, who will operate this season behind a line that will feature at least three new starters, said Justice's situation might allow even more players to emerge.

"I look at it as an opportunity for someone else to step up and get some experience," Leinart said. "That's something Winston has to deal with. We support him 100%, but we've got to practice."

Kyle Williams, a 6-6, 290-pound redshirt sophomore, described Justice as one of his best friends on the team and said his absence would hurt the Trojans.

"But I'm looking at it as a window to step up and show the coaches what I have," said Williams, who worked most of the three-hour practice in Justice's spot at right tackle.

Offensive line coach Tim Davis put his players through extra drills after practice and said the Trojans would move forward as if Justice were injured.

"If he's here, he's here. If he's not, he's not," Davis said. "I mean, it's just like breaking their leg."

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