Former National Football League running back Lawrence Phillips was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder Sunday after he allegedly drove a stolen car into a throng of boys with whom he had just played pickup football at Exposition Park in Los Angeles, police said.
Phillips, who has a decade-long history of arrests for violence and traffic violations, apparently was angered when he couldn’t find his belongings minutes after the game ended and accused the youths of stealing from him, according to the mother of one of the victims.
None of the victims’ injuries were life-threatening, police said.
Phillips’ alleged behavior Sunday added to his long string of brushes with the law, including at least five arrests for allegedly assaulting women. He was wanted in San Diego on felony charges stemming from two alleged attacks this month on a girlfriend. In one incident, he allegedly choked her into unconsciousness, authorities said.
An apparent difficulty controlling his temper also shortened Phillips’ once-promising football career. Several NFL and Canadian Football League teams cut him for insubordination, clashing with coaches and other disciplinary problems.
As a player for the University of Nebraska, Phillips was a standout talent who helped the Cornhuskers win two national championships in the 1990s --earning him a first-round NFL draft slot despite having a criminal record even then.
On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Phillips, who is 6 feet 2 and weighs more than 200 pounds, had joined an informal football game with a group made up largely of teenage boys, police said.
It was unclear how Phillips, actively sought by the San Diego police, came to be playing pickup football in Los Angeles, although police said the Honda Accord he was driving had been reported stolen in San Diego.
Myrna Flores, the mother of a 15-year-boy injured in Sunday’s vehicular assault, said her son, Rodney, told her that Phillips had joined the game with him and his friends, who all gather regularly at the park.
After the game, Phillips apparently couldn’t find some of his possessions and asked the boys repeatedly what they had done with them. “The kids were amazed,” Flores said. “The kids said they didn’t know where his belongings were.”
Phillips left but came back onto the field behind the wheel of a car and drove it toward the boys, according to police. Witnesses told police that others on the field scrambled to get out of the path of the car.
“My son landed on the roof. He broke the windshield; he fell back over it,” Flores said by telephone as her son was being released seven hours later from California Hospital Medical Center, where he was treated for lacerations and bruises. She said two others also injured were treated and released.
Witnesses to the incident flagged down a police cruiser. The officers pursued Phillips as he allegedly fled the scene. They arrested him a short time later without a struggle.
Phillips, who spent his teens in a West Covina group home, first attracted national attention for violent behavior when he was a star player at Nebraska. In 1995, he was charged with trespassing and assault for an attack on a college girlfriend, who said he threatened to shoot her in the kneecaps and elbows. The university provided her with 24-hour protection. Phillips pleaded no contest and was sentenced to a year of probation.
Before Sunday’s incident, Phillips’ most recent run-in with authorities came when San Diego police said that he had choked a 28-year-old girlfriend Aug. 2 at her home in the Mission Valley area. A second attack allegedly took place 11 days later when Phillips confronted the woman at a party.
San Diego police described him as potentially dangerous and said he had warned officers in the past that he would not be arrested peacefully.
When Sunday’s incident occurred about 1:30 p.m., thousands of USC fans were watching a free Trojan football scrimmage at the Coliseum, diagonally across from the open green field, which is typically used for pickup soccer and football.
Those nearby noticed a commotion and a cloud of dust, according to the two front-desk attendants at Roy A. Anderson Recreation Center directly across the street from the field.
“All we saw was a cloud of smoke,” said Todd Howard, a recreation assistant working the front desk with colleague Ramon Ramirez. The two men said they saw people lying on the field when the dust cleared. They called 911 and then summoned lifeguards working at the center’s pool to help the three victims until ambulances arrived.
One of the victims was carried off the field on a stretcher, and the other two appeared to suffer cuts to the legs, the recreation assistants said.
Howard and Ramirez said they were told by witnesses that the driver had jumped the curb, had driven up the full length of the south side of the field, turned the car around and then accelerated toward a crowd of several dozen people playing football. Several jumped out of the way; one of the victims was thrown up in the air, witnesses said.
Despite his troubles with the law, Phillips received many opportunities over the years to start fresh. After pleading no contest in the attack on his college girlfriend, he was drafted the following year by the St. Louis Rams as a first-round pick and No. 6 overall. That same year, he was arrested for drunk driving, a parole violation that carried a 23-day jail sentence.
The Rams released Phillips in 1997 for insubordination. He was signed briefly by the Miami Dolphins, but was dumped again after a woman claimed that he struck her after she refused to dance with him at a nightclub. Phillips pleaded guilty to battery and was placed on six months’ probation.
After being signed and then cut by the San Francisco 49ers, Phillips was charged in May 2000 with attacking a girlfriend in Beverly Hills. That December, he was sentenced to six months in jail after pleading no contest to felony charges of beating the woman and making a terrorist threat. He also was given three years’ probation and ordered to take anger-management training.
Phillips briefly found football success in Canada -- where he had to get special permission to work because of his criminal record in the U.S. -- but was dropped by two teams for behavioral problems, despite agreeing to additional anger-management counseling, according to news accounts.
In late 2003, Phillips was back in criminal court, charged in Quebec with sexual assault, assault and uttering threats, apparently against another girlfriend. He was denied entry into Canada last year when he attempted to appear in court on those charges. Canadian officials told him that because of his criminal history he needed a visa to cross the border, even to answer legal charges there.
Times staff writers Richard Winton and Robin Fields contributed to this report.