New details emerged Friday night about the Uber ride in Arizona in March 2016 that led to Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston's three-game suspension to start the upcoming season, including the fact that Winston was in a car that night with a former Vanderbilt football player now serving a 15-year prison sentence for aggravated rape and sexual battery.
ESPN first reported that the alleged third passenger, unnamed by Winston and FSU teammate Ronald Darby, was Brandon Banks, a friend of Darby's who was training in Arizona and rode with Winston and Banks in an Uber with a female driver to a club on the night in question.
Banks' attorney, Mark Scruggs, said to the Tampa Bay Times on Friday night that Winston was in bad enough condition at that club ("unruly," he told ESPN) that a second Uber was called to take him home, and he left in that car alone with another female driver.
"It appeared that Winston was trying to lay this on Brandon," Scruggs said in his reason for stepping forward. "They were together that night. They took an Uber to a club, the three of them did, and Brandon said nothing whatsoever happened while the three of them were in the Uber. … For whatever reason, they felt they needed to put him, escort him into an Uber so he could go home on his own. There's two different Uber rides is what we're talking about."
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This would explain the discrepancy between the driver's account of Winston as her only passenger, and Winston and Darby testifying that there were three passengers. Winston did not make any reference to a second ride in defending himself when the allegations first came out in November, nor did Darby in his statement supporting Winston.
Why would Winston, who had faced public allegations of sexual assault while in college at Florida State, be hanging out with another football player who was facing rape charges at the time in 2016? Scruggs said Banks had been friends with Darby since they played at rival high schools in Maryland; he said he would only characterize Winston as an "acquaintance" of Banks.
Winston and Darby have their own history together, as Darby and FSU teammate Chris Casher both witnessed the sexual encounter that led to Erica Kinsman of Zephyrhills accusing Winston of rape in 2012. He was not charged criminally, but settled out of court in 2016 with Kinsman, who also settled with FSU, getting $950,000 in a Title IX lawsuit against the university.
Messages left with Winston's attorney were not returned Friday night. Neither Bucs general manager Jason Licht nor head coach Dirk Koetter had any response to text messages seeking comment.
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Banks was found guilty for his role in the gang rape of a female Vanderbilt student in 2013. He is appealing to have a new trial, and Scruggs said he was allowed to be in Arizona in 2016 while the charges were still pending.
Scruggs said the NFL reached out to Banks in prison as part of its investigation into Winston, but he said he wouldn't speak without his attorney present, and Scruggs said the league never reached out to him.
"It appeared that Mr. Winston was trying to deflect responsibility for this," Scruggs said. "There were two different rides."
As a result of Winston's suspension, the Bucs will be without their franchise quarterback for their first three games, all against defending division champs from last season. They open at New Orleans, then face defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and Pittsburgh at home, with veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick expected to fill in at quarterback.
After a disappointing 5-11 season last year, the Bucs enter the year with Koetter and Licht's future in jeopardy if the team doesn't show significant improvement.
Before the new details came out Friday night, Winston had gotten support on social media from one of his teammates, Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, who came into the league with him in 2015 and himself dealt with a four-game suspension as a rookie for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
"We gotcha back @Jaboowins ! I'm riding with ya foreva! Family!!" Alexander tweeted.
The Glazer family, which owns the Bucs, has been unwavering in its support for Winston throughout the investigation. As recently as May, co-chair Joel Glazer had been confident the NFL would clear Winston.
"I can only speak to the person that I know, the person I have known," Glazer said from the NFL owners meetings. "And the person everyone I know knows. That's what I'll speak to, and that's a first-class individual, hard-working, wonderful in the community, a leader and everything that we would've hoped for in our quarterback."