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Troubled former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Arron Sears has Thursday hearing on charge of battery on police officer

TAMPA — Arron Sears once played before tens of thousands of adoring fans, a euphoric feeling few ever enjoy.

Now, this one-time Bucs offensive guard and second-round draft choice doesn't draw nearly as big a crowd. For the past 34 days he has been in a Hillsborough County jail, charged with battery on a Tampa police officer. His only visitors have been his parents.

A court hearing Thursday could begin the next chapter in Sears' story, which has been a mystery for nearly two years, since he began exhibiting odd behavior the Bucs couldn't explain. If the court decides Sears, 26, is mentally unstable, prosecutors say treatment may be a better alternative than punishment.

"It's not always about sending people to prison," assistant state attorney John Terry said, speaking in general terms because Sears' case is pending. "We're sensitive to things like that."

Court documents related to Sears' battery charge paint a picture of a young man who appears to be struggling with mental issues. The documents, released this week by the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office, describe the events in June that led up to and followed the assault Sears is accused of committing on Officer Kenneth Battaglia at Tampa General Hospital.

Included are details that range from Sears referring to himself as God when confronted by an officer to saying the hospital would "blow" if the staff did not comply with a request. He had been hospitalized under the Baker Act, which empowers police to hold for mental evaluation people who appear likely to harm themselves or others.

In addition, according to Hillsborough County sheriff records, police have made 11 visits to his home in Odessa in the past nine months. Sears has been arrested three times since November, twice for failure to appear in court.

After the first two arrests, a judge released Sears to a mental health center for evaluation and treatment. After the second time he failed to show for a hearing, Judge Kimberly Fernandez ordered Sears to remain in jail pending the outcome of his case.

According to the police report, on the day of the alleged battery, June 5, Battaglia was summoned to the walkway connecting the hospital and a parking garage, where, the officer said, Sears was lying down. Battaglia wrote in a report that Sears "did display mental illness signs." After another police unit responded, Sears eventually got into his vehicle and left, the report said.

About four hours later, Sears was returned to the hospital under the Baker Act after a Hillsborough deputy found him sitting in his truck "zoned out," the report said. At the hospital, Sears became belligerent and continually attempted to leave his room despite his mother's pleas and attempts to restrain him.

At one point, Battaglia wrote, Sears left the room and "demanded a beer and a black and mild (cigar). We informed the subject he could not have those in the hospital. The subject's facial expression became aggressive and he stated, 'You better get it or this place is going to blow.' "

Later, officers said, Sears shoved a nurse about 5 feet (the nurse didn't press charges). Battaglia confronted him. Sears pushed Battaglia out of the way and left the room again. Sears then pushed his mother aside and ran, the report said. Battaglia subdued him with a Taser.

• • •

By all accounts, Sears was happy and in a right frame of mind before he began behaving oddly in spring 2009. Upon returning to the Bucs' facility for offseason workouts, he was distant and withdrawn, club personnel and players said. He became unresponsive, at one point writing his answers to questions.

Dr. Roger Samuel, medical director of the Boca Raton Psychiatric Group, said it's possible nothing sparked the changes.

"Most serious psychiatric conditions appear in the 20s," said Samuel, who has no connection to Sears and spoke generally. "You can, for example, develop schizophrenia in your 20s."

Often, Samuel said, patients display strange behavior for six to 18 months in something of a precursor to more serious issues. Schizophrenia and manic depression can be accompanied by violence. Also, Samuel said head injuries can't be ruled out as a cause. Sears sustained at least one concussion in his final season.

Sears appears to have lost all contact with the Bucs organization. Center Jeff Faine, who played next to Sears on the offensive line, said it has been "forever" since he or any teammate has had contact with Sears.

Asked Tuesday if he knew Sears' whereabouts, coach Raheem Morris said he didn't know Sears was in jail.

Sears' mother, Henrietta Woods, has apparently played the central role in trying to get him help. Three weeks ago, Woods was granted emergency guardianship of Sears and his property for 90 days. She could not be reached for comment.

On Sears' Facebook page, he recently invited high school friends to call "while I'm sitting around doing nothing."

Sears is represented by a public defender, meaning a judge approved him for indigent status. Between his rookie signing bonus and his salary for the two years he played for the Bucs — his last in 2008 — Sears earned approximately $3 million.

He owns a house he purchased in 2007 for $840,000, but of that, $672,000 was financed. The property is assessed at $359,681 by the Hillsborough property appraiser.

Times staff writer Rick Stroud and staff researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Troubled former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Arron Sears has Thursday hearing on charge of battery on police officer 03/08/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 6:55am]

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