Police body camera footage obtained earlier this week by AL.com shows Alabama freshman football player Tony Mitchell identifying himself as a player to police after his arrest last month in Florida, sobbing as he acknowledged the risk it posed to his career.
“I’m an early-enrollee freshman. I play football at Alabama,” Mitchell said through tears as he sat handcuffed in the back of a Holmes County Sheriff’s squad car. “I know what I’ve got at risk, sir.”
Mitchell, a former star football player at Thompson High School in Alabaster, was arrested March 15 after a traffic stop and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. His passenger, Christophere Lewis of Valley Grande, faces the same marijuana charge and a firearm charge.
Mitchell pleaded not guilty to the charge and waived his arraignment last month. His attorney, Waylon Graham, did not respond to an AL.com request for comment at the time. Mitchell was scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing May 3 before that was continued this week to July 5.
A police report obtained by AL.com last month stated about $7,000 in cash and 226 grams of marijuana were found in Mitchell’s car. AL.com subsequently requested body camera footage in March that was released Tuesday evening by the sheriff’s office and reviewed by AL.com.
“I didn’t have none of that stuff on me,” Mitchell told police of the marijuana, saying it instead belonged to Lewis, who he referred to as a friend who was like family. “He knows it’s his. ... I had $1,000 personally. All the rest of the money is his. All the weed, the gun, all the money besides the $1,000 that is mine. ... I feel like he gonna own up to it.”
Police expressed to Mitchell that they believed his story, with a plain-clothed lieutenant asking Mitchell, “I’m normally a pretty decent judge of character -- this isn’t you, right?”
Said the lieutenant to other deputies: “What bothers me about it is -- your driver [Mitchell] ain’t a thug. You know what I mean? He’s doing thug shit tonight, but he ain’t a thug.”
When police asked about firearms, Lewis said there was a gun in the vehicle but claimed it was not his. Police then asked Mitchell if he had a concealed weapons permit, and he answered that he did. But when police asked Mitchell to describe the gun they found next to the passenger seat, Mitchell could not and police concluded it was not the gun for which Mitchell had a permit.
Detained in the squad car, Mitchell asked police if Lewis “owned up to everything, would I be cleared to go?” The deputy did not directly answer Mitchell’s question but said, “We’re not out here trying to ruin people’s lives, man.”
Body camera footage then shows the lieutenant, who was not wearing a body camera, having what he called an “off the record” conversation with Lewis in the back of another squad car. The deputy with the camera then spoke to Lewis, who said he was “just a passenger” and denied possession of the marijuana, scales and gun, which was found on the passenger side of the vehicle.
Police then returned to Mitchell and told him he would face a felony possession charge.
“Unfortunately [Lewis] is denying. I’m not charging anything with the gun. He’s catching the gun charge,” the deputy said. “But he’s denying the marijuana.”
Said Mitchell: “Sir, I swear on my life, on everything.”
Responded the deputy: “There’s nothing I can do on that. Because it is a felony, I have no discretions over felonies. ... I cannot work with a felony. The state of Florida does not allow me to.”
Mitchell asked what a felony meant.
“That much marijuana is a felony in the state of Florida,” the deputy said. “It’s possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Y’all have almost a pound, OK? He’s not taking it. I tried talking to him, and so did the lieutenant. That’s all I’m charging you with. But I ain’t got a choice on that.”
Mitchell then began sobbing again.
“Please, please, listen to me sir. No, no, no. Sir, I can’t, sir. I can’t,” Mitchell pleaded to the deputy, some of his words not discernible through his sobbing. At one point, Mitchell seemed to reference what he “came through in my career.”
Said the deputy: “I get it. This is the last thing I wanted to do.”
The police report stated sheriff’s deputies first spotted Mitchell’s 2023 Dodge Challenger speeding at 78 miles per hour on Highway 79, a major route between Alabama and the Panama City Beach area of Florida. The arrest came during Alabama’s spring break, when players were given the week off from spring practice.
When police activated their lights to stop Mitchell’s car, it sped away at 141 mph, the report stated. Police lost sight of the vehicle and ended the search, but minutes later found a vehicle matching the description traveling 45 mph in a 35 mph zone in Bonifay.
That is when the police body camera footage begins, with a deputy approaching Mitchell’s vehicle and informing him of the speed limit.
“You didn’t just run from me, on Highway 79?” the deputy asked.
Responded Mitchell: “I don’t even know where 79 is.”
The deputy then radioed that he believed the vehicle was the same that eluded him earlier. He told Mitchell to place his key fob on the roof of the vehicle, revealing later in conversations with other deputies that he suspected Mitchell would flee again.
“I do believe you are the vehicle that just ran from us,” the deputy reiterated to Mitchell.
“I didn’t,” Mitchell responded, later adding, “I didn’t run from you sir.”
Retorted the deputy: “Are you sure about that? Because there was two of us when you passed us by the church.”
Later, when the marijuana was found in Mitchell’s car and he was detained, the deputy received a different answer from Mitchell about fleeing earlier.
“Can I ask you question? And I’m not gonna charge you for it and anything like that,” the deputy said. “Were y’all thinking about possibly running again on me? Why did take so long to pull over, man?”
Mitchell then admitted to fleeing the earlier traffic stop.
“I ain’t never been in this situation before,” Mitchell said. “With everything -- [Lewis] was just telling me to go.”
The deputy asked, “You just panicked and punched it?” Mitchell then responded, “Yes sir. I panicked.”
“Bro, it’s alright, I’m not gonna charge you for it, because you’re being honest with me,” the deputy said. “I will say, you outran me, like pretty bad.”
The deputy asked Mitchell if it was a “Hellcat” trim level of the Challenger, and Mitchell said it was actually a “scat pack,” which can reach speeds of 174 mph.
“I ain’t never drove that car that fast,” Mitchell said. The 19-year old told deputies he received the vehicle as a recent birthday present.
Said the deputy later: “I’m a man of my word. I’m not gonna charge you with fleeing and eluding, because I told you I wouldn’t. And besides that, I never got directly behind you.”
Mitchell told police at the beginning of his stop that he was “on vacation” in Florida, but said “no sir” when asked if he was going to Panama City Beach, which is about an hour south of Bonifay.
Said the lieutenant later to Mitchell: “I grew up here. I grew up on that beach. That beach ain’t what it is. That beach will get a good kid like you into some shit like this. It’s all it’s good for at this point.”
Added the deputy: “You didn’t even make it to the beach, and look at where we’re at. You let your friend influence you to just gun it and now we’re here, OK?”
Mitchell was suspended indefinitely by Alabama after the arrest and did not participate in last Saturday’s spring game.
“Everybody’s got an opportunity to make choices and decisions,” Nick Saban said. “There’s no such thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Mitchell was ranked as high as No. 10 among all prospects nationally in the 2023 class in 247 Sports’ industry composite as a high school junior but fell to No. 123 by February’s final ranking, when Mitchell had enrolled early at Alabama.
Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @mikerodak.