ETSU player gets shot at clearing record

Becky Campbell • Jun 26, 2012 at 9:41 PM

An East Tennessee State University basketball player has a chance to clear his record in a plea deal in a case that stemmed from a robbery at his campus apartment and him lying to police about what was taken.

Sheldon Cooley, of Tampa, Fla., entered a guilty plea to solicitation to file a false police report in Washington County Sessions Court Tuesday. The misdemeanor charge was reduced from filing a false police report, a felony.

“We’ve reached an agreement and reduced it to a misdemeanor,” said Cooley’s attorney, Tom Jessee. He added that the charged will be expunged, or wiped from Cooley’s record once an 11-month, 29-day probation term is completed successfully.

The plea also called for a $25 fine and suspended 25-day jail sentence. Cooley was arrested Feb. 23 and released the following day on his own recognizance, meaning he did not have to pay a bond to be released.

Cooley could have faced two years in prison for a conviction on the original charge.

Cooley answered several questions from Sessions Judge James Nidiffer, including that he understands he can truthfully tell people he has no criminal convictions on his record.

Cooley entered the plea under a state statute called Title 40. It’s a “one-time deal,” Nidiffer told Cooley.

“You can only do this one time in your life, so don’t waste the hard work of Mr. Jessee,” Nidiffer said.

Cooley was arrested in February after telling ETSU police he had $1,300 stolen during an armed robbery at his Buccaneer Ridge apartment.

Cooley was not home at the time, but his roommate, J.C. Ward, and a neighbor, Adam Sollazzo — also ETSU basketball players at the time — were there.

Jessee, Cooley’s attorney, said after Tuesday’s hearing, that his client used bad judgment when he gave the initial account to police.

“It’s a good resolution of the situation,” Jessee said. “He just wasn’t using good judgment when he alleged more money was taken than was taken. This was really out of character,” for Cooley, he said.

In his work on the case, Jessee said he did not encounter a single person who had anything bad to say about Cooley.

“He’s a very good young man,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney General Ryan Curtis said he offered the reduced plea after conferring with one of his office’s criminal court prosecutors.

“After looking at his record and speaking with a criminal court prosecutor, I though this was the best resolution,” Curtis said.

According to Jessee, Cooley has already been disciplined through ETSU and basketball coach Murry Bartow. Jessee said Cooley was suspended for four games, including the last two regular season games and the first two rounds of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.

Bartow reinstated Cooley in March and said he expects the rising senior to play next season.

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