SAN JOSE -- Speaking out for the first time since news leaked that San Francisco 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks may face criminal charges for the alleged assault of a teammate, prosecutors said Wednesday they are still debating whether to charge the star player.
The alleged assault surfaced after this newspaper reported that the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office had obtained a felony warrant for Brooks' arrest last week -- and then mysteriously put it on hold.
Wednesday, supervising deputy district attorney Luis Ramos blamed himself for the premature filing of the warrant, saying he'd given it to a secretary to type before talking to his boss. He forgot to retrieve it and it was automatically referred to a police officer who would bring it to court for a judge's signature. The office is still deciding whether Brooks will be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor -- or not at all.
"It was my mistake," Ramos said.
Meanwhile, the office's internal debate continues over how to treat the June 8 incident in which Brooks allegedly struck 49ers nose tackle Lamar Divens three times in the head with a beer bottle and then punched him in the face during an argument over car keys outside Brooks' house in San Jose. The alleged attack left Divens bloodied and requiring three stitches, according to court documents.
Buoyed by the taped eyewitness statements -- and by Brooks' prior record -- prosecutors who routinely handle battery and assault cases think Brooks should face felony charges. The recall of the warrant has raised concerns among some line deputies and certain higher-ups in the office that celebrities are being given preferential treatment.
But Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery, who will decide whether to prosecute Brooks, said she had the warrant recalled only because the investigation isn't finished, not because the office is treating Brooks with kid gloves. She said Ramos was supposed to consult with her before taking any action.
"It was a screw-up," she said, "we're still investigating the case."
No Niner fan
Sinunu-Towery said the final decision about charges is up to her, and she stressed she will not be influenced by Brooks' fame or the team's popularity. The 49ers will be moving next year into a new, $1.3 billion stadium in Santa Clara.
"This is my call and I am not a fan of football,'' said Sinu said. "I think the game is too violent. I got my husband to give up his season tickets (for the 49ers). I do not care about getting seats (in the new stadium).''
Asked why the office is proceeding so cautiously on what appears to be a routine matter, Sinunu-Towery's boss, Chief Assistant Jay Boyarsky, noted the high-profile nature of the case.
"It's not every case that's on ESPN's crawl,'' said Boyarsky, the second in command in the office.
Sinunu-Towery noted that prosecutors in the unit responsible for issuing criminal complaints had recommended that no charges be filed. But Assistant District Attorney David Howe thought otherwise, and brought the case to Sinunu-Towery for review since she supervises the team that would handle it.
Brooks, 29, and Divens could not be reached for comment. The 49ers on Wednesday issued a brief statement acknowledging the brewing controversy.
"We are aware of the situation involving Ahmad Brooks,'' spokesman Bob Lange wrote in an email. "Out of respect for the legal process, the club will have no further comment at this time."
The NFL, the most popular professional sports league in America, is no stranger to off-the-field criminal misconduct by its players.
The league has been under particular scrutiny in recent weeks with the arrest of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is in jail after pleading not guilty in the shooting death of a friend, whose body was found on June 17.
Thirty other NFL players, according to a database compiled by U-T San Diego, have been arrested since early February, which marks the beginning of the football off-season when young, rich athletes find themselves with extra time on their hands and sometimes find trouble, too.
Big time contract
However, Brooks was not arrested the day of the incident, which is fairly routine in similar cases.
According to the application for Brooks' arrest, the incident unfolded after Brooks, Divens and other 49er players spent the evening of June 7 at different players' houses. Eventually they decided to go to downtown San Jose, and they kept drinking.
The unidentified witness said Brooks was too intoxicated to drive home, so Divens drove. When they got to Brooks' house about 2 a.m. on June 8, Brooks asked for his keys. Divens pretended to chuck them onto the grass and then started to hand them to him.
Brooks then allegedly clocked Divens -- 6-foot-3 inches, 340 pounds -- in the head with a beer bottle. Brooks allegedly began cursing and then struck him in the head again. Brooks allegedly asked Divens, "Do I need to get my (expletive deleted) gun?" and struck him again. Prosecutors also allege in the warrant that Brooks punched Divens.
Divens did not call police until about 3 a.m., more than an hour after he left Brooks' house and returned to his hotel in Santa Clara. The officers told Divens they would take statements from witnesses, according to their report. They also noted that Divens told them that Brooks was extremely drunk and had said to Divens that he had a gun.
"Due to these facts and a possible violent confrontation, Lt. Acosta instructed me to have the incident documented and let the District Attorney review and file any subsequent charges,'' according to the police report.
According to the court documents, a San Jose police sergeant called Divens three days after the incident asking if he still wanted to press charges.
Divens said he and Brooks were in touch and nearing a resolution. Two days later, Divens phoned the officer and told him he wanted to "drop it."
Brooks, 29, is an integral part of one of the NFL's most formidable defenses. The outside linebacker was named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press for his performance last season, recording 47 tackles and 6.5 quarterback sacks.
He helped clinch the team's 28-24 victory over Atlanta in the NFL Championship game by knocking down a key third-down pass on the Falcons final drive.
In February, 2012, he signed a six-year contract extension worth $44.5 million, with $17.5 million of the deal guaranteed.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.