CLEVELAND -- Two blocks south of the Cleveland Browns Stadium, visible from the Justice Center where this trial played out, a local jury of five women and three men last night needed a shade longer than the average NFL game -- about three-and-a-half hours -- to find Steelers backup tailback Najeh Davenport not guilty of the three counts with which he was charged in October.
Davenport, 29, smiled tightly and nodded as Judge Michael John Ryan finished reading the verdicts acquitting him and ending a four-day trial in Cleveland Municipal Court.
The judge told the eight-member jury, a number customary in misdemeanor cases here, shortly before 6 p.m. that he would bring them back in the morning if they couldn't complete their deliberations, though they claimed to be close. They responded by 6:13 p.m. with acquittals on all three charges: Domestic violence, child endangering and unlawful restraint.
Rankled by some of the case's media coverage, with three Cleveland television stations and two more from Pittsburgh present to record the jury's decisions, Davenport offered just one brief comment before leaving: "I think the truth and my lawyer played a big point in the outcome."
His attorney, Patrick D'Angelo, added that Davenport wanted in trial to try to restore his image: "He's a mama's boy, and he's a good guy."
D'Angelo said he hoped NFL officials, who were aware of the case, would take no action against his client.
"The NFL, I can only speculate about what they're going to do. But I think this clears him. I don't think he'll be the subject of any action," D'Angelo added.
If convicted, Davenport could have faced a maximum of 180 days in jail plus a $1,000 fine for the first-degree misdemeanors of domestic violence and child endangering, and a maximum of 60 days plus a $500 fine for the third-degree misdemeanor count of unlawful restraint. The NFL also could have suspended him for as much as four games without pay.
The verdict also concluded -- barring any more such instances -- a Steelers winter marked by domestic disturbances. Last month, the Steelers released receiver Cedrick Wilson the day after he was charged in a domestic-violence incident, the second time police were summoned this offseason to an episode involving him and an ex-girlfriend. Last week, domestic-violence charges were dropped against Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison.
The proceedings yesterday began with Davenport spending one hour, 33 minutes on the witness stand in the morning. He testified, among other things, that he came to Cleveland Oct. 4 per his custody arrangement with former girlfriend Anita Person to pick up their 5-year-old son, Najeh Davenport Jr., so both of his boys could appear in a then-upcoming Steelers fashion show. He said he got into a profanity-laced argument with Person over Najeh Jr.'s clothes, and Davenport left her house on East 115th Street angrily proclaiming he planned to seek full custody so the mother "would never see [her son] again."
Person opened a rear passenger-side door to his moving SUV, jumped inside and wound up sitting atop his 2-year-old son, Ali, strapped in his car seat in the middle of the backseat, he testified. He added that, after pushing her hip and moving her off Ali, he stopped the vehicle and she got out clutching Najeh Jr.
Three witnesses from a family that is a neighbor of Person's earlier testified they saw Davenport standing over Person and assaulting her. Davenport said on the stand yesterday that she fell to the ground while the two parents where having a "tug of war" over Najeh Jr. in a yard beside the vehicle. He denied punching her, choking her and throwing her to the ground, as she testified earlier, and also stated that he never assaulted her or caused the swollen lower lip that Najeh Jr. sustained that night.
The boy later came to visit his father in the patrol car in which Davenport sat while police interviewed him, he added. After police drove him in to their District 5 headquarters as a way of shielding him from the television-station crews responding to the scene and to take photographs about any possible injuries, Davenport stopped while leaving the headquarters to have his photograph taken with another officer who identified himself as a Steelers fan.
Chief prosecuting attorney Victor Perez and assistant prosecutor Joan Bascone, in closing arguments, remarked about how Davenport received special attention from Cleveland police among a few shortcomings they cited in the police's work that night. Bascone questioned the credibility of police supervising officers who testified and wondered why they didn't complete a domestic-violence report Oct. 4 per procedure. The prosecutors' office is expected to bring such allegations to the attention of Cleveland's chief of police.
Perez and Bascone declined comment afterward.
D'Angelo said he already heard from Person's counsel about her potentially filing a lawsuit.
Davenport testified he paid her $2,700, then $3,500 and, since 2006, some $6,400 monthly in child support.
The acquittals also resulted in Davenport regaining partial custody of Najeh Jr., whom he had been limited to seeing in supervised Justice-Center visits while facing charges.
Davenport is scheduled to make $1 million in 2008, the last of his two-year contract with the Steelers -- who declined comment last night.