Who Is Darren Sharper? Date-Rape Allegations Raise Serious Questions

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Who Is Darren Sharper? Date-Rape Allegations Raise Serious Questions
Wally Skalij

On a cool November night last year in Tempe, Ariz., a woman awoke groggy and disoriented on a gray sectional couch, according to a Tempe, Ariz., police report.

She lived in downtown Tempe, her apartment located near red-bricked sidewalks, perfectly cut grass and neatly aligned recycling bins. The Arizona State University football stadium and sloping hills could be seen in the distance.

In full view of her apartment was the City of Tempe Police and Courts Building. Buses and trolleys maneuvered through the nearby transportation center. Dozens of people strolled on the street below, some going in the Mad Hatter pub to get brats with fries.

In her apartment earlier that night, she and friends mixed some Ketel One vodka with flavored water. They chased it with pineapple juice, the woman said in a police report. Just a little drink. Just something to get the night started.

Their first stop, the woman says, was a club in Scottsdale called The Mint. They arrived at 11:30. A gaudy chandelier resembling a jellyfish hung over the dance floor. The champagne room had couches and footstools. The coed bathroom resembled a Vegas hotel suite, with an actual champagne bar not far from the stalls. A large LED cube dominated the club.

The group grew to about eight strong, she said, and after about 15 minutes moved several blocks west to the far less pretentious American Junkie. Once at that bar, everyone initially sat outside on the patio, under the skinny tree draped with lights, before moving to a table inside.

It was loud and crowded. The female servers were scantily clad, the menu reasonable. The drinks flowed, according to the police report.

One of the woman’s friends had a Ciroc vodka and water. She didn’t finish it. Nonetheless, when the group later arrived back at the apartment, the friend would begin to throw up, according to the police report. The friend would tell police she believed her drink had been spiked, with the drugging leading to her sexual assault after blacking out, she told Tempe police.

Meanwhile, the woman who awoke on that sectional couch later told Tempe police that she had been drugged and sexually assaulted as well, and said the last thing she remembered was a man handing her a drink.

According to her police report, she said that man was Darren Sharper.

***

AP Photo
Darren Sharper, center, flanked by attorneys Blair Berk, right, and Leonard Levine in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 14.

This woman's experience was just one of a number of allegations made against Sharper by at least eight women across five states, according to police reports in New Orleans, Miami Beach, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, as well as court documents from hearings in Los Angeles and New Orleans. In the documents, each of the eight accusers says Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion, sexually assaulted them. A ninth woman has accused him of sexual battery, according to a Miami Beach police report.

Bleacher Report spent several months examining the Sharper allegations—interviewing law enforcement officials, examining police reports and court documents, and also speaking to former teammates and coworkers.

This isn’t just a story about allegations across multiple jurisdictions. It’s about one of professional football’s favorite sons, a rising media star and one of the NFL's best defensive backs of all time, being accused of truly heinous crimes. Many who claim to have known Sharper well say they never would have suspected he'd be accused of anything remotely like this.

The totality of the accusations has stunned the NFL, leading many to wonder if one of the league’s most visible personalities—a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade Team and former analyst on the NFL Network—was leading a double life for a career that stretched 13 years, three teams and two Super Bowls.

The Sharper case remains shrouded in mystery as police continue to decipher dozens of pieces of evidence, and consider the fearsome thought that there may be other alleged Sharper victims.

In Los Angeles, Sharper has been specifically charged with using the sleeping drug Ambien to render two women in two separate incidents unconscious. Prosecutors say he sexually assaulted them as they slept. He pleaded not guilty. An Arizona grand jury charged Sharper with two counts of sexual assault and two counts of administering a dangerous drug following the Tempe allegations.

At a bail hearing on Wednesday, a Tempe police officer testified that Sharper's DNA was found on the clothing of one of the two women who accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting them. None of his DNA was found during an exam of the other woman.

The police reports and court documents appear to present, in each jurisdiction, strong testimony against Sharper. Yet there are also roadblocks for the prosecution. For example, the alleged victims from Tempe said they partied with Sharper at The Mint. However, TMZ reported that surveillance footage from the club doesn’t show Sharper present, and club personnel, TMZ says, told police they didn’t see Sharper at all that night. (Bleacher Report was unable to independently verify TMZ's report.)

Screenshot from Instagram

Still, Sharper faces a brutal fight, and the juxtaposition of Sharper now versus a short time ago is striking. After a charity softball game this past summer, Sharper took a picture with quarterback Drew Brees and receiver Lance Moore. Brees put his arm around Sharper and smiled. The picture was later posted to Brees’ Facebook page.

That was just eight months ago. Now, Sharper is in a Los Angeles jail.

***

The morning after that November night in Tempe, the woman says she awoke around 8:35. She remembered nothing after that shot handed to her by Sharper, she said in the Tempe police report. She was confused and scared and immediately departed, driving to her parent’s nearby home, she said in the report. She went into the bathroom and felt pain and discomfort in her vaginal area, she said. She was certain she had been raped, and she told police she was equally certain that Sharper did it.

Around noon that day, the woman told police she drove back to the apartment to confront Sharper.

She recounted this exchange in her account to police.

“What happened?” she asked him.

“You tell me,” he responded.

Sharper, she says, was acting like he was the one drugged. “What was I drinking?” he asked. “Did I throw up?”

Sharper told the woman he couldn’t remember anything from the night before. The woman didn’t believe him.

To her, Sharper was acting like he was the victim.

“I’m going to the doctor now,” the woman told Sharper. “You know what’s coming.”

She told police she left the apartment, got into her car and began the five-minute trip to Tempe St. Luke’s Hospital. A light rain fell. The sky had darkened. She walked through the sliding front doors of the emergency room where a sign posted on them read: “No Weapons. No Cell Phones.” The two dozen chairs were mostly unoccupied. The television in the room was on and loud.

She told hospital officials she believed she had been drugged and raped, according to a police report. Eventually, an emergency room nurse, Renee Little, phoned police.

In the end, three women told police they were drugged by Sharper that night in Tempe, with one of them stating her belief that Sharper had drugged her at one of the clubs. Two claimed he raped them as they were unconscious, according to a police report.

One of the women said that she saw her friend lying on the couch, appearing to be asleep, with Sharper on top of her, with no pants on, moving in a thrusting motion. She feared Sharper would be violent, so she didn’t say anything at that moment. Another told police she woke up naked from the waist down, with no recollection of how her clothes were removed.

The third woman, also claiming to be drugged by Sharper, believes she escaped being assaulted because she locked her bedroom door before going to sleep.

***

Los Angeles prosecutors, in a court motion provided by the prosecution during Sharper's bail hearing last month, say Sharper had the same pattern of attack. They argue that he would meet the women, often in a bar or nightclub, then take them to his home or hotel room. He’d offer them a drink, and they would black out, waking up with no memory of their night but feeling as if they had been sexually assaulted.

AP Photo
Minnesota Vikings safety Darren Sharper talks with reporters at training camp in Mankato, Minn., on July 29, 2005.

The accusations that have been brought against Sharper stands in opposition to his public persona. He has served as a humanitarian, philanthropist, teacher of children, actor, television analyst—even an advocate for women’s rights.

Sharper was the good guy with a bright smile. Some female friends of Sharper’s even set him up on blind dates with their female acquaintances. Sharper went on some of these dates as New Orleans police were investigating him for sexual assault.

Few details about Sharper’s accusers have been made available by law enforcement. Yet police reports in Tempe show that at least some of the female complainants aren’t just similar in terms of their allegations—they are also similar in appearance: white, with long hair, in their early 20s or younger, thin build, standing approximately 5'6" tall.

Two law enforcement officials who asked not to be identified—one in Arizona and one in Louisiana—believe in the possibility of more alleged Sharper victims who have declined to come forward. 

***

Two years earlier than Tempe, and 2,300 miles away, two women embarked on an annual rite of passage—a trip to Florida for spring break. It was in Miami Beach that they met Sharper, according to a police report, and were invited to his $4 million, 3,000-square-foot condo.

The condo had a close view of the Atlantic Ocean—so close you could see the beach chairs, umbrellas and people sitting along the sand with great clarity. Inside, it was a typical bachelor pad. A gray, four-piece sectional couch with dark blue pillows was in the middle of the room. A large, circular kitchen stood to the left with a pool table nearby.

The bedroom had a queen-size bed with a fish tank just an arm’s length away, a sofa and two large chairs all sitting atop a brown carpet.

The condo was stunning. And on that day, Sharper and several other men were inside of it, according to a police report. One of the women drank with the men, sitting at the circular table, according to the police report.

Later, she said the casual atmosphere would transform into something darker. One of the women awoke at 6 in the morning, and standing before her was a man exposing his penis, moving it closer to her face, according to a police report. She told him to stop. After falling back asleep, the woman awoke again, and this time a man was attempting to lift her dress, the police report says. She would tell police that, startled, she awoke her friend, and both would discover that their underwear was missing.

Though there were two women in the apartment, the police report says, only one chose to file a complaint with police. A medical examination of that accuser revealed no evidence of sexual assault, the police report states. The woman said in the police report that she was uncertain if the man exposing himself was Sharper or someone else.

***

In New Orleans this past September, two women told police they met Sharper and a man who police say was an acquaintance of Sharper's at a bar.

Sharper invited them back to his Central Business District apartment on the 700 block of Tchoupitoulas Street. The two men and two women talked and drank and talked some more. Then came sleep.

The women would later tell New Orleans police it was not sleep by choice. One awoke with Sharper, completely nude, on top of her, according to a police report and court document. He was sexually assaulting her, the woman said. The second woman, later in the morning, said she, too, awoke to Sharper nude on top of her, sexually assaulting her. Both women told New Orleans investigators they did not consent to sex with Sharper, and both believe they were drugged.

***

Looking far back into Sharper’s life, there are no other known accusations or past investigations. A spokesperson for William & Mary, where Sharper played college football, said there were no police investigations involving Sharper when he was a student there. A spokesperson for the Green Bay Police Department—the Packers were Sharper’s first NFL job in 1997—said there were no investigations into Sharper there, either.

So much has changed for Sharper since then, though. He was able to parlay his looks and football prowess on the field into a television career after his playing days that started in New Orleans and ended at the NFL Network. Sharper also had an acting role on an Internet television series. A person who watched a taping of one show said Sharper was shy on the set and the director had to pull Sharper out of his shell. Still, that source said it seemed Sharper had a chance to be a good actor.

Now, within the NFL community, he is practically in exile. Close friends across the sport contacted about Sharper have distanced themselves—none of them want anything to do with him. The people who scouted him, drafted him, coached him, played alongside him, bled with him…they are all seemingly running away from him.

“I’m disgusted by what he’s accused of,” Scott Fujita, a former teammate of Sharper’s in New Orleans, told Bleacher Report. “I’ll just leave it at that for now.”

Former Saints linebacker Scott Shanle told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that his initial reaction was that Sharper was “innocent until proven guilty.” Shanle added: “The more things that kept popping up, the worse it looks.”

His former college coach, Jimmye Laycock, who once spoke openly and affectionately of Sharper, declined to comment through a university spokesman.

Sharper’s New Orleans attorney has declined repeated requests for an interview. Sharper’s attorney in Arizona, was also asked to comment on the allegations, and also did not respond to an email.

Sharper’s marketing agent, Darryn DeWalt, did not respond to requests for comment from Bleacher Report about the accusations against Sharper. But he told New Orleans’ WWLTV.com: “I've known and worked with Darren a long time and I see the allegations and I don't know that Darren Sharper. I can't comment on specifics in the case, but I've always known him to be a compassionate guy and what is being said, I don't know that Darren Sharper.”

“Mentioning his name here now,” said an NFL Network employee, “is like mentioning Hitler. He’s been wiped from existence here.”

 ***

Morry Gash
Saints safety Darren Sharper holds the George Halas Trophy after winning the NFC Championship game on Jan. 24, 2010.

The images of Sharper for more than a decade have been positive ones. Sharper at a charity event. Sharper being interviewed. Sharper charming fans. After the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV, Sharper smiling and repeatedly kissing the Lombardi Trophy.

“I feel like New Orleans is a second home to me,” Sharper told a half-dozen reporters prior to a charity basketball game in May of 2013. “I enjoyed my time here. I feel like I have a great connection with the city, and that’s why I come back to do these events…I still try to keep my face in the community.”

Sharper could be seen across the city in various restaurants and bars, from the wealthiest quarters to the not-so-wealthy ones. He would sit with teammates or simply with a friend or two. When approached by fans, as often happened at a popular steakhouse in town, Sharper would always smile and oblige any autograph requests.

What people most remember about Sharper is that he seemed to be constantly flanked by attractive women. This is not unusual when it comes to an NFL player.

He was always impeccably dressed when in public too. This is not unusual, either. At an event for Louisville Slugger, while others were dressed more casually, Sharper wore a tan suit, buttoned to the top, with a red tie and a perfect haircut. Standing on the red carpet for a charity event benefiting the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, he wore a perfectly fitting black suit with a white shirt and silver tie.

Sharper dated actress Gabrielle Union, who has appeared in dozens of film and television shows. After that, he dated several models. When the NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl Gospel Celebration was held in New Orleans several days before the big game, it was noted that a portion of the proceeds of the event would go to Sharper’s charity, the Sharper Kids Foundation.

In December of 2010, not long before New Orleans police say they began investigating allegations of rape, Sharper and one of his closest friends on the Saints, Roman Harper, in conjunction with the United Way, paid for two homes to be rebuilt that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. 

Some of the area’s top politicians and even law enforcement officers went to Sharper’s charity events. In one, many of the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. That event, held in 2011, was called “Home Runs for Kids.”

Sharper and Harper would combine again to make their mark in the New Orleans community. They threw a series of football camps for kids ages 6-18, and Sharper was once photographed instructing an enthusiastic 10-year-old boy.

This picture was the kind of thing that cemented Sharper as a good citizen in the minds of fans and others. While some teammates photographed with Sharper sometimes looked uncomfortable in the spotlight, Sharper never did. He glowed in it.

At one of the camps, Sharper was speaking with a group of parents, who thanked him repeatedly for having the camp. One parent asked if he would ever go into politics. Sharper flashed his smile.

“My main thing,” Sharper said, “is to make things better for the kids.”

After Sharper left football and became an oft-quoted star, he rose quickly through the ranks of the ex-player media. He was well-liked around the NFL Network, according to high-ranking personnel who work there. He would chat with people in the hallways between shows or go out to dinner or a bar with co-workers. They say he was always smiling, and always charming.

“When a bunch of us heard about this,” said one NFL Network official, “we all looked at each other said, ‘What the f--k is this?’ We were stunned. We had no clue.”

***

There was shock and surprise because people had never heard of anything like this regarding Sharper, who is not married and has a daughter, who is 16. In 2010, he was featured in the book NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters: Inspiring Personal Accounts of Fatherhood from the Men of the NFL that promoted women's safety.

From the book’s Amazon.com page: “Recognizing that domestic and sexual violence directed against women is a serious social problem that continues to plague America, the National Football League Player's Association has joined with A Call to Men, the leading national men's organization dedicated to addressing this problem, to produce NFL Dads Dedicated to Daughters, a book celebrating the unique and indestructible bond between fathers and daughters. In it NFL players and coaches, through inspiring personal accounts, talk about what it means to be a father, and the importance of being a role model for their daughters.”

Sharper contributed to the book. He wrote: “Money cannot buy the women we love everyday security, which men take for granted. So, it’s going to take strong, accountable men to educate young boys and influence other men to deal with women respectfully, honorably and fairly at all times.”

On his daughter, Sharper added: “As my first born, she is definitely special, and I am thankful for the positive influence she has had on me. Sacrificing for her instilled selflessness in me that I know I wouldn't have gotten any other way. Playing football can be glamorous at times, but being a father keeps me humble…My daughter makes (me) mindful of how women are treated, undervalued and exploited, which is why I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity to speak up about domestic violence.”

On September 22, 2013, about four years after publication of the book, Sharper sent out a tweet promoting a women’s football camp in Slidell, La. The same day of that tweet, police documents show a woman met Sharper at a bar near the event.

Sharper handed her a drink. 

The next thing she remembered, the woman said in a police report, was Sharper on top of her, sexually assaulting her.

At approximately 10 the following morning, she went to the hospital and received a sexual assault examination. A New Orleans police report states the Louisiana State Police crime lab found Sharper's DNA on a swab which was taken from the alleged victim during a rape examination by medical officials.

***

Not long after that incident, Sharper was in West Hollywood on Oct. 30, 2013, where he met two women at a nightclub called Bootsy Bellows.

The club is located among a cluster of restaurants and boutiques and high-end car dealerships just outside Beverly Hills. Nearby is Rivabella Ristorante, sometimes staked out by the paparazzi. The BOA Steakhouse, another popular restaurant, sits across a bustling intersection.

The entrance to the club is almost inconspicuous. Black doors blend into the side of the building. The rope line and crowd are the only exterior signs of its existence.

Photo by Stuart Palley
The scene outside the Bootsy Bellows nightclub in West Hollywood on a recent Friday night.

Katy Perry hangs here. So has Kobe Bryant. As have many other celebrities. It’s a magnet for them.

Directly outside the club, one pair of trim legs after another pile out of pricey sedans and other vehicles. The women are all young.

Inside, there are women everywhere. There’s also dancing, lots of alcohol, booming music from a DJ booth that looks like the control panel on a Mars rover, more women, more dancing and more drinking. It is chaotic, appealing and overdone all at the same time.

According to his NFL Network colleagues, Sharper was a regular at the club and would go sometimes after he got off work, as the network's L.A. studio is only about a 20-minute drive away.

On January 14, according to a police report, the club was about to close when the two women were approached by Sharper to go to an after-party. The women said yes.

“I need to stop at my hotel to pick up something,” Sharper told them, according to the report.

Then, according to police reports, while in the hotel room, Sharper offered the two women a drink. “It’s Coffee Patron,” he told them, a mixture of coffee and Patron silver tequila.

A court document from Los Angeles prosecutors says that the women told police that after consuming the drink Sharper provided, they soon passed out in the hotel room.

The first woman told police that one of them, upon waking at 8:30 a.m., claimed Sharper was on top of her, sexually assaulting her, in one of the hotel bedrooms. The second woman, waking up on the couch, claimed she stumbled into the bedroom and interrupted the assault.

Several months earlier, on October 30, this entire alleged scene had appeared to duplicate itself, according to a police report. The same club. Two women. Back to a hotel room. Both given drinks by Sharper. They pass out.

In this instance, at 8:30 a.m., both women claim they awoke on a pullout couch, feeling as if they were sexually assaulted, according to a police report and court document. They also suffered intermittent memory loss in the hours after, they told police.

The women from the October 30 assault left Sharper’s hotel confused, scared and angry. They would proceed to receive medical treatment and an examination for sexual assault. Sharper, meanwhile, went on to promote a breast cancer awareness event on Twitter.

***

Former FBI profiler Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole, who still consults the agency, has examined hundreds of rapes and has also worked on the Unabomber and Zodiac Killer cases. She says that if the Sharper allegations are true, his case would be highly unusual.

O’Toole explained that she has rarely seen “a date rape case involving a celebrity that has both this many accusers and crosses multiple jurisdictions.” Under those parameters—a highly recognizable person being accused of assaulting so many women across numerous jurisdictions—it’s possible we’ve rarely seen anything like the Sharper case ever before.

O’Toole said getting one woman to come forward in high-profile rape cases is extremely difficult. The fact that so many women have in this situation could be significant in and of itself.

Serial rapists are often not easily discovered, she said. They can be predators who hide their true natures until they are isolated with their victims. Since O’Toole had not examined Sharper, she was speaking of rapists in general terms—not Sharper specifically.

Stealth is part of the date rapist’s tool kit, O'Toole explained. She also said it’s extremely common that the people around the rapist—even family, friends and co-workers—have no clue about the rapist’s acts.

"Most people who commit violent crimes don’t look like criminals,” she said. “This isn’t Hollywood. There’s few scary-looking offenders.”

O’Toole added: “Rape is not about sex. Rape is about power, control and dominance. It can be about being sadistic. Being aroused by the victim’s pain. Sex is just the conduit.”

***

AP Photo
Saints safety Darren Sharper (42) during a game at the Superdome against the Rams on Dec. 12, 2010.

Las Vegas. This past January. Another nightclub. Another group of women. Another invite from Sharper to hang out in his hotel room, according to a police report. 

Two women told police that Sharper invited them and a young man to an after-party at his room. Police say when the three arrived in Sharper’s room, they were surprised to see that no one else was present.

Sharper offered them each a drink, a police report says, and that after consuming them they blacked out.

One of the women told police she woke up in bed next to Sharper. She got up to go to the bathroom and upon seeing her face in the mirror noticed visible injuries, according to a police report. She couldn’t remember how they got there. She went back to sleep. When she woke a second time, Sharper asked how she was feeling, the police report states.

“You got sick the night before,” he told the woman. “This will help you feel better.”

It was another drink. The woman says after consuming it she again passed out, and upon waking up found Sharper sexually assaulting her.

The other woman woke up on a couch in the living room of the hotel room, feeling physically as if she had been sexually assaulted, a police report says.

The man accompanying the women had also blacked out. He told police that after consuming the drink, his next memory was of sitting at the hotel bar downstairs.

The man said he had no memory of how he got there.

***

AP Photo
Darren Sharper leaves a courthouse in Los Angeles after a hearing on Feb. 14.

So who is Darren Sharper?

A tattoo on his arm symbolizes his football career. It reads: perseverance.

One story tells a lot about Sharper the football player. He was drafted by the Packers, and in Green Bay, he would become known as one of the harder workers on the team. The man who drafted him, Ron Wolf, believed Sharper would be a force in football and, in fact, it was Wolf who perhaps saved Sharper’s career.

Coach Mike Holmgren benched Sharper early in his rookie season for blowing a special teams play. Holmgren pulled Sharper aside. “Son,” Holmgren said, “you won’t be in this league long if you keep playing like that.”

Holmgren benched him for two games and planned to bench him longer until Wolf intervened and told Holmgren they needed to see what Sharper could do. On a Thursday night game, Sharper intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. 

That moment changed Sharper as a player and man, he would tell friends. He became a perfectionist, on and off the field. On it, he was one of the most technically sound defensive backs of his generation. Off it, Sharper, who wore cornrows and sweatpants in public as a rookie, soon began wearing only the best suits, and tightly cropped, neatly cut hair as his public profile grew.

Sharper would continue to grow as a player. He would leave the Packers and start 48 consecutive games for the Vikings. In New Orleans, he would win a Super Bowl.

“I’ve been known throughout my career as a guy who will make big plays in big games, and being a winner is part of that, too,” Sharper once told ESPN. “That's what I want to be remembered as, being a winner and being a playmaker.”

We do know that he was well-liked and respected by his peers in the football and broadcasting world, a leader in the football locker room and a public spokesman for women's rights.

What we don't know is what will happen to him next.

"I think I speak for a lot of people when I say this," said a former teammate of Sharper's who chose to remain anonymous. "I just want this to be over." 

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