Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, one of the Bucs' most promising young players, was arrested Monday morning at New York's LaGuardia Airport and charged with felony possession of a Smith & Wesson .40 caliber firearm, which could put him behind bars.
Port Authority police arrested Bowers at the check-in counter in Terminal C, an authority spokesman said. The Bucs' 2011 second-round draft pick out of Clemson was scheduled to fly from New York to Raleigh, N.C. on a US Airways flight but now is being charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.
Bowers was held in New York, arraigned Monday evening, and he posted $10,000 bond, according to the New York Daily News.
The charge Bowers faces is the same one originally levied against former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress after a 2008 firearms incident in a New York nightclub. Burress served 20 months in prison after pleading to a lesser charge following a self-inflicted wound from an accidental discharge.
But Bowers' incident was different in several important respects. Bowers, taking a pleasure trip to New York with his girlfriend, traveled from North Carolina with the handgun — apparently unwittingly so — in a checked bag. After discovering the handgun while in town, Bowers approached the ticket counter Monday and disclosed that he had the weapon, hoping to transport it home in the same fashion.
Police were alerted and Bowers, in accordance with New York law, was arrested because he is not licensed in the state. It's believed the weapon is legally registered to him, though it was not immediately clear in which state.
A Queens County District Attorney spokeswoman confirmed that Bowers voluntarily turned the weapon over to authorities. However, the spokeswoman, Meris Campbell said the same charge would have been assessed had security personnel uncovered the weapon because illegal possession of the weapon applied either way.
The charge is quite serious. New York, home to some of the nation's strictest gun laws, aggressively prosecutes gun crimes. Criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree is punishable anywhere from 31/2 years to 15 years in prison, Campbell said. A state 2006 law eliminated the ability of judges to decide sentences in certain possession cases.
Despite authorities' low tolerance for firearms possession, Bowers, 22, will need to hope his mitigating circumstances bring leniency and, perhaps, a lesser charge that does not have a mandatory sentence.
Bowers just completed an impressive comeback from a torn Achilles tendon. Having suffered the injury in May, Bowers recovered and returned to the field in October despite concerns the injury might sideline him for the whole season.
Bowers, who registered three sacks coming off the bench, is possibly in line to take over a starting role with left defensive end Michael Bennett scheduled to become a free agent next month. Now those plans are, at best, up in the air.
While Bowers faces significant legal hurdles, he also could face discipline from the NFL. The league reviews every legal incident involving players and reserves the right to hand down suspensions and/or fines depending on circumstances.
The Bucs, who were made aware of the matter before it became public, were still trying to obtain further details as of Monday evening, according to general manager Mark Dominik.
"We are aware of the situation and are gathering information," he said in a statement. "We will withhold comment until we know all the facts."
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.