SONICS BASKETBALL player Ruben Patterson, best known lately for his offensive moves on a businessman and a baby-sitter, has now beaten two potential felony raps in just four months. In both cases—attempting to force his Bellevue nanny to have sex and breaking a man's jaw—he publicly denied the acts, then admitted them in plea bargains to lesser charges and earned little or no jail time. He has apparently reached an out-of-court settlement with the man and may make a similar financial truce with the nanny, ending any civil action. He received a brief NBA suspension for the jaw-breaking and faces another, possibly longer, ban for the attempted rape, but his players' union thinks such suspensions are unfair and may fight them. He also has supportive fans, family, and several high-powered attorneys to help keep his record and conscience clear.
It apparently doesn't hurt to be a carefree millionaire pro athlete when you break the law, although in the latest case Patterson didn't think he did even that.
"I did participate in a consensual sex act," the dapper Supes forward said in King County Superior Court last week, "and cheated on my wife." But nothing more. With the guidance of top criminal attorney John Wolfe, Patterson entered an Alford plea—not admitting to a crime but conceding there was a preponderance of evidence to convict him.
Though legally found guilty and therefore convicted, Patterson can always say he never admitted guilt. By referring to the rape as consensual (while failing to mount a legal defense to prove it), he appears to have done nothing more than make love to a dissatisfied partner.
A few facts. With his supportive wife Shannon watching, a sobbing Patterson, 25, told the court he was sorry about the third-degree attempted rape of his Bellevue nanny, known as NZ, at his Cougar Mountain home last September 25. According to the King County Prosecutor's Office, while NZ was checking on one of the two children (Patterson's teen stepbrother also lives with them), Patterson wrapped his arms around her from behind and said, "Come on . . . let's do it." It was midnight, his wife was in the hospital for elective surgery, and the 6-foot-5, 227-pound Patterson was immensely naked.
NZ resisted, but Patterson carried her into another room. "Placing his hands on either side of her face, the defendant pushed her head toward his penis," prosecutors say. "Although his penis touched her mouth, NZ continued to resist and within moments was able to break free." Patterson urged her not to tell anyone.
Just six days earlier, on September 19, Patterson had been charged by an Ohio grand jury with felony assault in Cleveland, his hometown. In that case, businessman Kevin Lewis said Patterson mistook him for someone who had damaged his Mercedes-Benz outside a bar on June 11 and beat him badly.
Though Patterson wouldn't speak publicly about the assault, he maintained his innocence to his Sonics bosses. "He said he was there but wasn't involved with anything that was alleged," general manager Wally Walker told reporters at the time. "That's all we know about it."
Five months later, on January 29, Patterson pleaded guilty to the assault as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, avoiding up to eight years in prison. He received a year's probation and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine.
Prosecutors did not explain why it took so long to file the charges or why they were plea-bargained. Complete details of the case were never published.
BUT COPIES OF Cleveland police incident and investigation reports on the case, obtained by Seattle Weekly, describe a case of a hoop star's Mercedes rage.
The victim, Kevin Lewis, then owner of Gear 2 Go, a sporting goods shop in Cleveland, was handing out store flyers in the early morning near the Flats nightclub in an old warehouse area turned entertainment district. Lewis says he saw another man using a key to scratch the rear of a Mercedes. Lewis later recognized Patterson when he walked out to the car, and Lewis told him of the damage.
Patterson instead believed Lewis was the vandal, says a police report, and assaulted him. Lewis, whose thumb was also broken, required oral surgery for a jaw that was fractured in two places and had to be wired shut for two months.
Patterson, later summoned to a police precinct, showed up with two attorneys. Patterson told a detective "he did see a fight that night but he was not involved." He said his friend Lamont Johnson restrained him. Later, Johnson showed up with one of the same attorneys and confirmed Patterson's story. Both said a third man, Melvin Scott, fought with Lewis.
Scott, without an attorney, told police "he tried to tell Ruben to calm down . . . [but] Ruben pushed him out of the way so he could get at Mr. Lewis."
Patterson and Scott were both charged with the assault, but victim Lewis said it was Patterson who broke his jaw. The Sonics player has now settled legal claims with Lewis. "I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of the case," Lewis, whose store is no longer in business, said in a phone interview last week. Asked if he was under a gag order, Lewis answered: "I just can't say anything about it."
All during the assault case—and throughout the Sonics' mediocre basketball season—the attempted rape of the nanny was also hanging over Patterson's shaved head. NZ had finally reported the attack September 29, and a seven-month probe ensued. The police investigation originally centered on possible second-degree attempted rape, a felony. But on May 8, prosecutors announced the lesser charges reached by plea- bargaining with Patterson's attorney.
Bellevue police were privately unhappy with the gross misdemeanor charge, although NZ's attorney says the victim is satisfied with the sentence, a year in jail for Patterson with all but 15 days suspended. If he remains in the state—unlikely for several reasons, including a trade—he would have to register as a sex offender.
But, once again, things are never as bad as they look for Ruben Patterson. The court may allow him to serve his brief sentence in comfortable home detention—possibly at his place in Florida. Or if he should do his two weeks in jail, he can be released five days early for, no kidding, good behavior. All in all, another Patterson slam-dunk.