Carolina Panthers

Panthers lineman: Race played a factor in arrest

CHARLOTTE -- Moments after being cleared of two charges, Carolina Panthers offensive lineman and former Louisiana sheriff's deputy D'Anthony Batiste suggested Friday that local police might have had racial motives when he was arrested in March.

Batiste was stopped for having too dark window tint, and a subsequent search of his SUV turned up a concealed gun -- which was actually his service weapon from the nearly two years he spent with the Lafayette (La.) Parish Sheriff's Office.

But at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse on Friday, those two charges were thrown out when a judge ruled that the arrest for the window tint violation was a pretext for a search. Batiste was fined $110 for failing to update his driver's license upon moving here last fall, but was otherwise relieved his name was cleared.

"When the arrest happened, I called some of my supervisors back in Louisiana," Batiste told The Herald upon leaving the courtroom. "As soon as I'd explain it, all of them said 'D, something's not right about this.' We're all kind of under the impression I was arrested for driving while black."

Batiste was arrested on March 25 when Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department officer Bret Balamucki pulled up beside him near the intersection of South Boulevard and Woodlawn Road. Balamucki said in court Friday that the tinting on the windows of Batiste's 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe was so dark "I couldn't see who was inside."

He then initiated a traffic stop, tested Batiste's windows, and arrested him for the tint violation. The legal threshold for window tint is 35 percent light transmission, and Balamucki said Batiste's windows gave a reading of 8.8 percent. Upon searching his vehicle, he found Batiste's gun under the seat. Balamucki said Batiste was initially cooperative, but grew frustrated as the stop went on, eventually refusing to answer questions.

CMPD public affairs director Julie Hill said Friday night that the department had been stepping up efforts to crack down on tint violations, since illegal windows prevent police from seeing inside suspects vehicles -- putting the officers and the public at risk. She said the initiative has been going on for more than a year, and they were working to toughen the laws at the state level.

As to Batiste's claim that his arrest might have been racially motivated, Hill said: "That would be incorrect, ... He received no special treatment in that regard."

Batiste said he was so shaken in the days after his arrest that he called his supervisors back in Louisiana. He worked on patrol as well as at their correctional institute, and Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael Neustrom said last week that Batiste had "always received satisfactory reviews," for his work there.

He said that since the arrest, he's begun seeing a psychiatrist to help him deal with his feelings. He admitted feeling conflicted about his anger at his own treatment and that the police have an important job to do -- a job he was doing not that long ago.

"Right now, I don't know how I feel about the CMPD," Batiste said. "I feel bad, because this was an embarrassment to me, my family, my teammates and the whole organization, all because an officer was unwilling to show discretion.

"That's why I'm working with somebody, because I don't want my feelings on this to get the best of me."

Batiste's arrest came just as the NFL's public image was taking enormous hits for players' off-field indiscretions. Players such as Adam "Pacman" Jones and Tank Johnson stayed in the headlines for their criminal involvement, and the league has taken the unprecedented step of suspending those two for a season and eight games, respectively.

When the USA Today ran a story about the league's arrest record earlier this spring, they included mug shots of 41 players who had been arrested since the start of the year. Since the photos were organized in alphabetical order, Batiste made the top row, placing him ahead of Jones, ahead of Johnson, a characterization he said was unfair.

"I was belittled by that," Batiste said. "I wish people knew the whole story about me, that that's not who I am. And unless this gets out there, people aren't going to know it."

While he's little-known to most fans -- he didn't appear in a game and dressed for just two last year -- he represents quite a story.

After leaving Louisiana-Lafayette as a four-year letterman (he majored in criminal justice), he bounced around the minor indoor leagues and was actually cut by the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.

That led to his two-year stint as a deputy back in Louisiana, a job he held for 22 months before resuming his football career full-time. He went to training camp with Dallas last summer, and the Panthers signed him off the Cowboys practice squad last October. They actually tried to sign him earlier in the season, but he stuck with Dallas out of loyalty before they promoted other players instead of him.

But Friday, his football career seemed to pale to his past as a deputy. He said despite his mixed feelings, he wanted to get back into his old line of work when he was finished with football, hopefully landing a job as a detective. That's why the arrest hit him so hard, and being cleared left a broad smile on his face.

"This is a hard thing for me, because I used to be one of those guys," Batiste told The Herald. "I'm distraught mentally over this, and I really wonder what the guy's motivation was. It boggles my mind that I've spent so much time chasing criminals and making drug busts, that charges like this could ruin what I've worked so hard for."