No Golden Lion.

May 24, 2010

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

A little more than two months before he was arrested a third time, Erick Brooks played the game of his young career at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

A freshman guard on the basketball team — a walk-on, no less — Brooks scored 17 points and had three steals in 23 minutes against Mississippi Valley State on March 5, 2009. The Golden Lions won 73-63.

Brooks had been a standout at Little Rock Central High School on the team and in the classroom. On the court, he was an all-star. Off the court, he earned a 3.75 grade-point average.

“You never would have thought he’d ever get in trouble,” said Oliver Fitzpatrick, the head basketball coach at Central. “His 3-point-whatever GPA, he scored 20-something on his ACTs.”

But something changed in Brooks — even his mother said so. Instead of playing with the Golden Lions in the NCAA Tournament last year, he was in and out of jail on small charges like theft and burglary. Even when he promised the judge he would stop, he got arrested again and again.

“He could have done pretty much anything he wanted,” Fitzpatrick said.

According to court records, what Brooks did was steal.

The fact that he was a high achiever who seemed well on the road to success makes Brooks’ case all the more lamentable, but it doesn’t make it unique. Law enforcement officials and community leaders say past success is no guarantee of a crime-free future. In fact, it can even be something of a catalyst.

As executive director of Little Rock’s Watershed Project, the Rev. Hezekiah Stewart has worked with troubled young people in the city for decades. For him, someone like Brooks is rare but not unusual.

“Do you understand the difference?” he asked. “It doesn’t happen to someone as accomplished as that young man is with great frequency. It’s rare. But that doesn’t mean I’m surprised when it happens, so it’s not unusual.”

FIRST ARREST

Brooks was first arrested on April 17, 2008, when police found him carrying a credit card that had disappeared after a car break-in two days earlier. That October, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey sentenced him to a year of probation, a $300 fine and 30 hours of community service. When Brooks finished the community service, Humphrey waived the fine.

In the two years since, Brooks, 20, has been charged with 16 felonies in seven separate cases, all related to stealing from homes and cars. In each case, he was charged along with other people. His three most recent arrests — including one April 14 and another March 24 when a police dog bit him — came after receiving a 120-day jail sentence, which Humphrey allowed Brooks to serve on weekends.

The judge also added five years of probation, 50 hours of community service and $3,901.51 in restitution in a plea deal that resolved five cases against Brooks.

Brooks did not play basketball for the Golden Lions last season. He was academically ineligible for the team.

“He’s not a bad kid,” Brooks’ mother, Sharon White, said. “He just got to running with the wrong crowd.”

Brooks met a group of people a few years older whom he wanted to impress, she said. His father left the family when he was 10, she said, and he always wanted the approval of older men. He wasn’t raised in poverty and didn’t run wild in the streets, she said.

“He’s trying to change, he really is,” she said. “I’m his harshest critic, but that’s because I still have hope in my heart for him.”

She said her son had no explanation for what changed in his life that inspired poor decision after poor decision.

In June 2009, Brooks sent a letter to Humphrey telling the judge he knew he needed to make changes.

“I understand that I have received a couple of felony charges but your honor that’s not the real Erick Brooks,” he wrote in a neat, steady script, leaving out most of the apostrophes. “I was caught up in the streets thinking I had to be something that Im not. Thinking that I had to have all the girls, money, shoes etc but thats not my destiny in life and I realized that.”

Such behavior, Brooks wrote, was beneath him.

“Your honor Im special!” Brooks wrote. “When I was born I was dead. The doctor said even if I lived I wouldn’t be healthy or function right, well your honor with god help I have flourished in life.”

Brooks entered his plea Dec. 9. Five days later, he got arrested again. Little Rock police arrested him again in March and then again last month. He faces seven counts, including burglary, breaking and entering, theft of property and fleeing. He posted a $50,000 bond and was released from the Pulaski County jail April 21. After Brooks missed a court appearance April 27, Humphrey ordered him to appear Aug. 24 to explain why he did not show for court.

Brooks’ mother said he did not want to be interviewed for this story.

COMMON INFLUENCES

Stewart said high achievers can fall to the same influences as anybody else. Brooks’ downfall, he said, could have been a new set of peers who had more ready access to money or women that drove him to commit the crimes to which he has already pleaded guilty.

“Eagerness will sometimes cause you to think, ‘How fast can I get a dollar?’” Stewart said. “Despite his success, if things were not happening fast enough for him, this is something our young men can get caught up thinking about.”

And once Brooks started, Stewart said, stopping probably got harder and harder.

“I assure you, if he got away with it even once or twice, he’ll try it again and again,” Stewart said.

Stewart said it could also be that Brooks could not handle the hit to his pride when he was first arrested and became self-destructive.

“Everybody was expecting him to do wonderful things and he failed,” Stewart said. “He may be living behind walls of shame, trying to get punished.”

Pulaski County chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson said that his office often looks at a person’s circumstances as it decides how to proceed with a case.

“We routinely give people second chances, third chances, if there are elements in their life that can help rehabilitate them,” he said. “Their past successes or future potential is definitely part of that.”

A pristine history, full of opportunity but marred by recent bad decisions, can help — or hurt.

“In my mind,” Johnson said, “someone who has a good background has a lot less excuses for screwing up than someone who has nothing going for him.”

The goal, he said, is justice, not simply punishment.

“It’s to everybody’s benefit to have people decide to stop doing crimes,” Johnson said.

COMPULSIVE CRIMINALS

Police point to Brooks’ growing rap sheet as one illustration of the problems they have lowering the numbers of property crimes. The lack of space in jails and state prisons means criminals who don’t hurt anyone tend not to remain behind bars for long.

“How many felonies does a guy have to have before he goes to prison?” asked Little Rock police Lt. Barry Brewer, who supervises the department’s property-crime investigators.

Brewer complimented Humphrey as a good judge, but said the Arkansas Department of Correction needed to find a place for prisoners who seem to almost compulsively commit crimes.

“Someone like Erick Brooks, you never know how many crimes he’s actually done, you just know what you’ve caught him doing,” Brewer said.

Brooks’ most recent arrest came on April 14, two days after Markeshia Robinson came home to find four men pulling her 42-inch television out of her house at 701 N. Shackleford Road along with two laptops, a desktop computer, clothing, jewelry and cash. Her father noticed an iPod, BlackBerry, sunglasses and a digital camera missing from his car.

According to a sworn affidavit filed in Little Rock District Court, Brooks was easy to identify as he ran out a side door and into a black Ford Escape. Robinson had gone to Central with Brooks — one of her friends dated him — and she picked him out of a photo lineup as “Suspect 2.”

Officer K.P. Baer saw Brooks driving the Escape two days later and arrested him. By then, according to Pulaski County jail records, Brooks had served nine days of his 120-day sentence, signing in to his dayworker program most recently three days earlier. He showed up for the program most recently May 2.

“All this mess he’s in, it’s not in character for him,” Fitzpatrick, Brooks’ former coach, said. “That’s not the Erick Brooks I saw. I’m shocked as anybody. I never thought it would have been him.”

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Comments
  1. […] found the story of Erick Brooks quite by accident. A source of mine was grumpy because a guy who’d been arrested a few times […]

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jacob Sanders., Jacob Sanders.. Jacob Sanders. said: When smart kids with huge potential do stupid, stupid things: http://is.gd/cpOw6 and http://is.gd/cpOwL […]

  3. Matt Davis says:

    Great story Jake. Something like this would pass me by, but you went and did the legwork to tell it in a fresh way. Thanks, man. I enjoyed reading it.

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