"They did not resist, but they were not forthcoming with information, either. When asked if we could search the vehicle, they refused."
Darrell DeBusk, Knoxville Police Department spokesman
Coach Bruce Pearl addresses the arrests of four UT basketball players
Knoxville police were trying Monday to interview a woman who rented a car that was stopped for speeding New Year’s Day and contained four University of Tennessee basketball players, two 9mm semiautomatic handguns, a bag of marijuana and a bottle of liqueur.
The four players, David Tyler Smith, Brian Michael Williams, Melvin Lamont Goins II and Cameron Alexander Tatum, face criminal charges in connection with the weapons and marijuana. They have been suspended indefinitely from the basketball team by coach Bruce Pearl.
The players told police they knew the firearms were in the rented 2010 Dodge Charger when they picked up the car in Nashville, records show. None of the players claimed ownership of the guns or the marijuana.
The weapons — a Taurus and a Smith & Wesson — were found under the driver’s seat and passenger seat of the car during an 11:30 a.m. traffic stop for speeding. Records show the Taurus held a magazine with eight rounds while the magazine containing five rounds for the second weapon had been removed and was lying beside the Taurus.
“Upon search, officers saw in plain view the muzzle of a Taurus handgun under the front passenger seat,” arrest reports state.
“Passenger David Tyler Smith stated they were aware of the firearms when they picked up the vehicle in Nashville and unnamed passenger/s (sic) took steps to remove the magazines,” the reports state.
The magazine for the Taurus, however, had not been completely removed, according to records.
Knoxville Police Department spokesman Darrell DeBusk said the weapons were undergoing forensic examinations Monday.
“The guns are being processed by our forensic units for fingerprints,” he said. “There will be a question of who handled the guns.”
A liaison officer with KPD will work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to conduct a trace on the firearms, he said. That process will take several days.
“Then it will be up to ATF to file charges if they want,” he said.
The manufacturer’s serial number on the Taurus had been filed down. DeBusk said federal agents sometimes can still trace those weapons despite attempts to obliterate the numbers.
State law does not differentiate between the serial number on a firearm or a microwave oven. Possessing any item with an altered serial number is a misdemeanor offense.
Federal law, however, is more strict on altering firearm serial numbers. U.S. Attorney Russ Dedrick said possessing or transporting a firearm with a molested serial number is a felony offense punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment upon conviction.
Smith, 23, and Williams, 22, seated near the Taurus with the filed down serial number, have been charged with state misdemeanor offenses in connection with the altered weapon.
DeBusk declined Monday to identify the woman who had rented the black Charger carrying the four players or when the car had been rented. The car bears an Illinois license plate and is owned by EAN Holdings LLC in Lombard, Ill., an Enterprise rental company.
“We have a couple things to complete before we release her name,” he said. “We have a one-page document that identifies the person who rented the car.”
DeBusk did say that the vehicle was rented at company’s Clinton Highway location.
A representative of Enterprise on Monday retrieved the Charger from the KPD impoundment lot after an investigative hold had been lifted on the vehicle. A spokesman for Enterprise in Memphis, where the risk management division is located, declined comment Monday.
Pearl said this weekend the car was rented by a girlfriend of one of the players.
The UT’s compliance office would review the rental car situation to assure there was no violation of NCAA rules concerning extra benefits for athletes, Pearl said.
Tatum, 21, of Lithonia, Ga., was driving the Charger when police clocked it doing 70 mph on eastbound Interstate 40 near the Alcoa Highway exit, records show. The speed limit on I-40 downtown is 55 mph.
Officers stopped the Charger on Alcoa Highway near the intersection with Kingston Pike. When the officer spoke to the driver, he noted the odor of marijuana in the car, records state.
“They did not resist, but they were not forthcoming with information, either,” DeBusk said of the four players. “When asked if we could search the vehicle, they refused.”
The officer requested a police dog to inspect the car. That resulted in probable cause to search the car despite the players’ refusal, DeBusk said.
That’s when officers found a Smith & Wesson semiautomatic handgun under the driver’s seat. Sitting behind Tatum, a sophomore guard, in the passenger seat was Goins, 22, of Dallas.
Sitting in the front passenger seat was Smith, a senior guard/forward. Under that seat police found the Taurus handgun.
Sitting behind Smith was Williams, a junior center, of Bronx, N.Y.
Positioned in the back seat was a backpack bearing Williams’ name, records show. Inside the backpack police found a plastic bag of marijuana.
Also found in the back seat, DeBusk said, was an open container of beer. Because the beer was not near the driver, no field sobriety tests were conducted on Tatum, he said.
Arrest records, however, state an open container of HPNOTIQ liqueur was found in the back seat. The liqueur is a mixture of fruit juices, vodka and cognac and is made in France.
Tatum was charged with possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed and speeding. He was released from jail after posting a $1,000 bond.
Goins, a junior guard, was charged with simple drug possession and possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed. He was released from jail after posting a $1,500 bond.
Smith was charged with possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed and alteration of an item’s permanent identification number. He was released from jail after posting a $2,000 bond.
Williams faces charges of simple drug possession, possession of a firearm with the intent to go armed and alteration of an item’s permanent identification number. He was released from jail after posting a $2,500 bond.
The players are scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 14 on the misdemeanor offenses.
Don Bosch said Monday he represents Smith, but the lawyer declined to comment on the charges.
Don Jacobs may be reached at 865-342-6345.