‘Streets In My Veins:’ How Crittenton went from NBA to facing murder, gang charges

Javaris Crittenton admitted that he was “fighting something on the inside of me” as he was preparing to enter high school.

Now, eight years after writing those words, the former NBA player from Atlanta, who was a high school teammate of Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, faces a murder trial for the 2011 shooting death of a 22-year-old mother of four.

A review of thousands of pages of court records reveals this inner turmoil: The constant pull of the streets fighting against the new millionaire lifestyle brought on by a professional basketball career. Crittenton, according to his college application to Georgia Tech, was elected class president in ninth, 10th and 12th grades, as well as student government association president as a senior at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy — a school he initially resisted attending despite entreaties from Howard’s father, the school’s athletic director. He had wanted to go to one of the public schools that draw from the gritty neighborhoods in south Atlanta where he was raised. He also volunteered at a well-known local charity, Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry, founded by the famed civil right leader, as well as for a March of Dimes drive. Before his 10th grade year, he worked at a law firm.

Yet in one of the case’s strangest twists, police in both Los Angeles and Atlanta allege that this one-time model citizen became a gang member while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. In one season at Georgia Tech in 2006-07, during which Crittenton received a disciplinary warning from a student conduct process for stealing answers during a math class, he averaged 14.4 points and made 35.6 percent of his three-point shots, good enough to get him selected 19th overall in the ’07 NBA Draft.

In 113 NBA games in two seasons with Memphis, the Lakers and Washington, the 6-foot-5 Crittenton, who will turn 26 on Dec. 31, hardly put up the kind of numbers that would make him a star, averaging 5.3 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists and a 44.2 shooting percentage. Still, in that short term, his contracts totaled $4.1 million. As a young player, Crittenton’s early career arc somewhat mirrored that of another Atlanta area native, Lou Williams, who finished as runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man Award in 2012.

However, Crittenton never let his career blossom in the way Williams’ did. Prior to the murder charges brought against him, Crittenton’s career started to derail. On Dec. 21, 2009, he was involved in a high-profile incident in which he and Gilbert Arenas displayed guns in the locker room following an altercation when they were teammates with the Washington Wizards. After that incident — for which Crittenton was suspended 38 games, the fourth-longest ban in league history — NBA commissioner David Stern said Crittenton was contrite.

“Both (Crittenton and Arenas) have expressed remorse for their actions and an understanding of the seriousness of their transgressions,” Stern said in a statement in announcing the players’ punishment in March 2010. “Both have volunteered to engage in community service in order to turn the lessons they have learned into an educational message for others. I accept fully the sincerity of their expressions of regret and intent to create something positive from this incident.”

That positivity never came to pass. 

Since the murder of Julian Jones on Aug. 19, 2011, records indicate that Crittenton has at times on social media embraced the reputation that has come with being accused of the charges now levied against him. In December 2012, the mother of Crittenton’s son, Tyress Daniels, wrote to a friend in an electronic message after a heated dispute with Crittenton that Crittenton “is psycho.”

“Now he’s back calling me horrible names and telling me to check his reputation in the streets and I don’t want any problems,” Daniels wrote.

In October, the Fulton County District Attorney’s office tried to have Crittenton’s bail revoked following an incident after a separate bail hearing for Crittenton’s co-defendant. In a motion, the DA’s office said Crittenton tried to “harass, intimidate and threaten” assistant district attorney Gabriel Banks by staring him down — the motion said Crittenton “mean mugged” Banks. Crittenton’s relatives had to pull him away and a Fulton County investigator stepped between Crittenton and Banks to protect the prosecutor. 

In a recording of a phone conversation between Crittenton and his co-defendant at an Oct. 3 emergency hearing, Crittenton said, “I wanted to beat the (expletive) out of the DA … right there in the hallway,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The judge did not revoke Crittenton’s bail but put him on a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., ordered that he may not be within 100 yards of the courthouse except for his scheduled appearances and that he may not leave the Atlanta area without the court’s permission. (Last March, Crittenton had an offer to try out for a pro team in Venezuela, which would have paid him as much as $20,000 per month.)

If the allegations by police and prosecutors are correct, then it would appear that Crittenton, indeed, gave in to the pull of the streets and away from the ideals he once espoused.

“Once God calls you,” Crittenton wrote in an essay on his college application to Georgia Tech, “no man can run away or hide from Him.”

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April 20, 2011, served as a marker in Crittenton’s life when events began to unravel. That day, a little more than a year after Stern suspended him, was the first in what evolved into a series of robberies over the next few months in which Crittenton was victimized. Police and prosecutors contend that these events eventually led Crittenton to retaliate against those whom he believed had robbed him.

At 10:50 p.m. that night, Crittenton and his cousin Douglas Tavaris Gamble, who is charged as a co-conspirator on eight of the 12 charges that Crittenton faces, left a barbershop on Cleveland Avenue in Southwest Atlanta. At that point, Crittenton and Gamble were held at gunpoint by four men and robbed of $55,825 worth of property, including a black diamond necklace that Crittenton valued at $25,000 in a police report and a black diamond watch worth $30,000.

Later, Anthony Jones, one of the barbers who was present that night and who considered himself a friend of Crittenton’s, told police that Crittenton knew the suspects. Police identified them as Trontavious Stephens, DeMario Stephens, Demontinez Stephens and Antonio Sumlin. Jones told police that Crittenton “knew that ‘Lil Tic’ a.k.a Trontavious Stephens, robbed him because he (Crittenton) looked Lil Tic in the face during the armed robbery and recognized him from the neighborhood,” according to a document. Trontavious Stephens was identified by eyewitnesses as sitting next to Jones out front of a home at 2915 Macon Drive in Atlanta when she was shot. Police identified Stephens as the intended target of the shooting.

When it came to the initial robbery, Jones, the barber, told police that Crittenton “did not have faith in law enforcement officials to make an arrest and, as a result, Crittenton (very upset) wanted to take matters into his own hands.”

The document continues that “Crittenton told law enforcement officials during the course of their investigation not to worry about the investigation and that he would handle the matter.” During the investigation, Crittenton was shown photographs of the four men but did not identify any of them — a sign that police interpreted as his noncooperation and further proof he would take the law into his own hands.

Twelve days after being robbed, Crittenton wrote an email to his insurance agent Aisha Smith-Danzy, as he was trying to get his policy to pay for the stolen jewelry. In the email, he displayed his feelings of betrayal by members of the neighborhood that once nurtured him.

“It’s OK,” he wrote. “Like you said I’m just thankful to be safe but simultaneously angry as hell because someone that I grew up with tried to set me up. It’s like when you make it and don’t go back to your old neighborhood then people say you changed and when you make it and do come back like I do and give back to the community and show your face then you have ignorant and jealous people who do stuff like this.”

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Smith-Danzy wrote back to Crittenton, telling him that he could still inspire and help people from his old neighborhood without having to be there physically. 

That prompted another email from Crittenton on May 14 in which he appears philosophical and aware that he should resist the lure of the old neighborhood.

“Thanks for your helpful words,” he wrote. “You’re exactly right. Idk (I don’t know) how many different people are going to have to tell me that before I realize it. I was so caught up in still going over there, showing people that I haven’t gone Hollywood when really that’s not important. I can show my presence in the neighborhood in a different and better way.”

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Trontavious Stephens, DeMario Stephens, Demontinez Stephens and Sumlin all were part of an Atlanta criminal gang called Raised on Cleveland or ROC, according to police. ROC has 100 core members and possibly more than 200 overall, according to an Atlanta Police Department gang profile. The gang is affiliated with two other Atlanta gangs, 30 Deep and Red Kartel, the latter of which uses “traditional blood gang identifiers,” according to the profile. The gang profile also asserts that the ROC crew is a “hybrid blood sect.” While the police consider Red Kartel to have “violent, highly aggressive street-level enforcers,” it says that ROC is more focused on making money with crimes such as robberies. 

The profile said that the lines between Red Kartel and ROC are often blurred.

Meanwhile, when Crittenton was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2007-08 season, the Los Angeles Police Department alleges that he became a member of the Mansfield Family Gangster Crips — the arch enemy of the Bloods, the sect with which the Atlanta gangs are affiliated. According to an undated document in the case file, officer Timothy Estevez of the LAPD Wilshire Division and Wilshire Gang Impact Team spoke with two individuals regarding Crittenton’s gang involvement. Both individuals, whom Estevez said did not know each other, refused to be identified. The document stated that Crittenton is a “known and admitted 8-Trey Gangster Crip” and also that he is an admitted Mansfield Family Gangster Crip for approximately five years.”

Estevez said that Crittenton was “walked in” as a member, meaning that he did not have to endure a beating to gain membership, as male members often must. Estevez said an initiation such as Crittenton allegedly gained is reserved for celebrities and second- or third-generation gang members. During its investigation, the Fulton County District Attorney’s office applied for a warrant to photograph Crittenton’s stomach, believing he might have tattoos that would indicate gang membership.

Besides Estevez’s work, Los Angeles police cited further evidence of Crittenton’s gang membership. Three men identified by Los Angeles police as being part of the Mansfield Crips — Cecil Laurent, Javier Romero Angulo and Afsaw Abebe — were accused of special circumstance murder in the killing of a woman named Jana Collins and her unborn child. (Like the murder of which Crittenton stands accused, the trio allegedly killed Collins when they missed the intended target; the purpose, the police allege, was retaliation.)

After Collins’ murder, Angulo fled from Los Angeles to Atlanta. When Los Angeles police investigated, they found that his ticket on Delta Airlines was purchased by Crittenton. When police arrived at Crittenton’s Los Angeles-area home and interviewed him, Crittenton told the police that “he was familiar with defendants Abebe and Angulo,” according to a document, and told the police that he had called and texted with Abebe and Angulo.

Crittenton confirmed buying the ticket and said that he had known Abebe, who went by the nickname K-Swiss, for two years.

“I met him at a club, through another friend,” Crittenton is quoted as saying in a document.

Crittenton defined the relationship as a “close friendship.” In an interview with police, Crittenton also referred to Angulo as his “little homie.”

Lastly, documents from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department show that Crittenton provided financial assistance to both Angulo and Abebe while they were in jail. The documents show he deposited $50 into Angulo’s account and $300 into Abebe’s.

Atlanta investigators, in conversations with their Los Angeles counterparts, learned that “gang members in California have little or no respect for gang members in Atlanta, Georgia,” and refer to them as “wannabe gang members.” As a result, if a crime was committed by an Atlanta gang against a Los Angeles gang, the offense would represent a “high degree of disrespect which would necessary (sic) warrant retaliation,” according to a court document.

Almost three months after Crittenton and Gamble were robbed on Cleveland Avenue, they again fell victim to a crime. In the early morning hours of July 20, 2011, Gamble and Crittenton, in his black Porsche, left Club Onyx, an adult club in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead neighborhood. They headed back to south Atlanta with someone they had met at the club whom they could only identify to police as “Mr. Richard.”

According to an Atlanta Police Department Incident Report, Richard “kept giving them twisted direction.” After arriving at 474 Holderness Street, they let Richard out but when they got back in their car, they soon found themselves blocked by a white SUV. Three men armed with guns — one wearing a “red bandier” (the color of the Bloods) around his neck — forced Crittenton and Gamble to lay face down and removed their valuables. Gamble told police, who arrived at the scene around 5 a.m., that he was pistol-whipped. Both he and Crittenton refused medical attention. Crittenton was robbed of a $20,000 diamond bracelet, a $20,000 diamond ring and a $15,000 Audemars Piguet watch. In addition, a .40 caliber Ruger handgun was taken from Crittenton’s car. For the second time in three months, Crittenton was out more than $50,000 in jewelry. This time, his insurance had expired.

A few weeks earlier, Crittenton was the victim of a third crime, though not a violent one. Gamble had taken Crittenton’s car to get washed at a location off of Bankhead Highway and left Crittenton’s wallet with his debit card inside the vehicle. The wallet was stolen and transactions totaling $2,668.08 were made on the cards.

During their investigation, police received ominous information from a man named Willie Mahoney who lives on the street where Jones was killed. Mahoney told police that prior to Jones’ murder, Crittenton came by that 2900 block of Macon Drive to look for the people who robbed him. “When he (Crittenton) was asked by Mahoney if he was still looking for the guys who robbed him, he stated that Crittenton had an angry look on his face at which point he walked away.”

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On Aug. 16, 2011, one of the men who allegedly robbed Crittenton, Demontinez Stephens, was shot at — an incident that police believe Crittenton was involved in. Shortly before that, Crittenton posted messages on his Twitter account — @JayCrittDTE, since deleted — that could be construed as a conscience at war with itself.

“Idk what’s gotten into me. Sometimes I feel like… I’m my worst enemy” he posted on Aug. 7.

On Aug. 10, he posted, “miss my brothas Swiss” — Abebe — “and Flaco. Man I wish they was here.”

Then on Aug. 13: “Got the streets in my veins like a poisonous iv”.

Further illustrating what looks like a struggle, he retweeted the following post on Aug. 14: “The Devil will have you tryna get back at people ya whole life. Creating bad Karma for yaself #LetGoodLetGod”.

Then on Aug. 18 — one day before Jones’ murder — he posted, “A lot of these n***** smile in you face and shake your hand plot on you or pray (sic) on your downfall.”

According to court records, Gamble went to an Enterprise Rent-A-Car location in Fayette County, south of Atlanta, and rented a black Chevy Tahoe hybrid SUV. Hybrids run quieter than conventional engines. At 9:50 p.m. that night, a vehicle that eyewitnesses describe as the same as the one Gamble rented pulled up to 2915 Macon Drive where Jones and Trontavious Stephens were sitting out front.

A shooter sitting in the backseat fired four rounds. The casings of the .223 caliber shells were later found at the scene by police. Jones was hit in the right hip. Less than two hours later, she was pronounced dead, leaving behind her four children.

Crittenton’s text messages indicate that he worked out at Georgia Tech that day. He did not send any messages after 9:04 p.m. that night. His next one came almost 3 p.m. three days later.

According to the grand jury testimony of Gamble’s girlfriend, Tasha Hundley, Crittenton spent the night of the 19th at Gamble’s apartment. Hundley did not see Crittenton that night but testified that Gamble told her Crittenton was upstairs. She saw Crittenton the next morning and made small talk with him. She testified that she saw the black SUV, which she had never previously seen.

When media reports later linked Crittenton to the crime, Hundley testified to the grand jury that, “He (Crittenton) sounded confident that, you know, he didn’t have any involvement.”

After Crittenton ended his text message hiatus, he also returned to Twitter. On Aug. 24, Crittenton posted, “All my n***** is gone” and then “but I still exist. So I got on my knees and told Him this… I repent. Gotta thank Him a million”.

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After Jones’ death, Crittenton flew to Los Angeles. Authorities, including the FBI Fugitive Task Force, found him in Southern California and arrested him at John Wayne Airport in Orange County on Aug. 29. (His attorney has said in court papers that he was there to fly back to Atlanta and give himself up.) Crittenton was extradited to Atlanta. When police searched his home, they found an AK-47 assault rifle, a 12-gauge shot gun and a .40-caliber pistol.

In what has amounted to a lengthy investigation, results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation revealed on Feb. 28, 2012, that Crittenton’s left middle finger print was found on the driver’s side rear passenger door handle of the SUV rented by Gamble that police allege was used in the commission of the crime. The crime lab also found gunshot primer residue on the roof liner of the vehicle. “This result supports the possibility that the submitted portions of the driver’s side rear passenger area interior headliner from the 2011 Chevy Tahoe (item 008) were in close proximity to a firearm during discharge or came into contact with an object bearing” gunshot primer residue, the report read. Investigators also learned that Gamble unsuccessfully tried to get employees at the Enterprise location to remove Crittenton’s name from the rental contract when Gamble returned the vehicle.

Despite all of that evidence, the case is not considered a slam-dunk. 

Trontavious Stephens, who initially identified Crittenton as the shooter in a lineup, told the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case in February 2012 that “he did not see the shooter” and “he had never seen Javaris Crittenton before.” He said he could only identify him because his neighbor showed him Crittenton’s photo on the computer.

His attorney, Brian Steel — who declined comment for this story, as did the district attorney’s office — has filed numerous motions to compel discovery of evidence from the prosecution. Steel also is attempting to suppress location information gleaned from Crittenton’s cell phone, exclude “bad character evidence,” and to quash the two indictments that allege gang involvement. Motions from Crittenton’s attorney also contend that when Crittenton was arrested at the airport, his cell phone and laptop were unlawfully seized and, as a result, all information from them should be excluded. The back-and-forth between the defense and the prosecution with arguments such as those over the discovery appear to be slowing down the case and a potential trial date.

Looking at the 12 counts against Crittenton, which include charges such as felony murder and participating in criminal street gang activities, it’s hard not to think back to the essay he penned to gain entry into Georgia Tech. He wrote of how he had originally resisted going to private school.

“I did not want to follow a million rules and I definitely didn’t want to wear a uniform everyday,” he wrote. The more entreaties made to him about attending, “the more adamant I became about not attending.” One day, he wrote that he changed and was “going to make this work. I was a little discombobulated because I was fighting something on the inside of me.”

Two days before he was arrested at the John Wayne Airport, Crittenton took to Twitter to wonder to himself how he had found himself in such a predicament.

“This is crazy,” he wrote. “Trouble continues to follow me for some reason. I put my trust in God.”