Jason Gwaltney, ex HS football star, pleads not guilty in home invasion
A former running back who once dazzled fans of high school football on Long Island stood handcuffed before a judge Wednesday as he faced charges of being part of a group that burglarized a Huntington home at gunpoint.
Jason Gwaltney, 25, of Brentwood, did not speak during the brief proceedings in front of Judge G. Ann Spelman in First District Court in Central Islip. His attorney, Joseph V. Cozzo of Central Islip, entered a plea of not guilty to charges of burglary and criminal possession of a weapon. Bail was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond.
Police said Gwaltney was one of five men who went to a home on Leigh Street about 1:20 a.m. Tuesday and stole cellphones and other valuables at gunpoint before fleeing in a 2001 Lincoln that was stopped by police a short distance away on Deer Park Avenue.
Gwaltney admitted to police he "drove the car to the house," according to the criminal complaint against him.
Police did not specify Gwaltney's alleged role in the burglary, but said three armed men entered the home through an unlocked door, demanded cash from five residents and threatened them. Two other men acted as lookouts, waiting in the car, police said.
Cozzo said outside court that Gwaltney knew nothing about the burglary, never entered the home, did not know who lived at the home and was not aware that any of the other men had guns until police pulled the car over.
About eight years ago, Gwaltney was one of Long Island's most courted high school football players, getting a 1 a.m. recruiting phone call on Jan. 6, 2005, from USC coach Pete Carroll to come play for the Trojans, minutes after the California team had won the national championship.
At 6 feet, 225 pounds, Gwaltney was the most prolific running back in Long Island history, racking up 7,800 yards on 948 carries between 2001 and 2004 at North Babylon High School -- an Island record.
He eventually went to West Virginia on a football scholarship in 2005. He had 186 yards rushing on 45 carries and three touchdowns in six games before a knee injury and academic issues ended his freshman season and caused him to leave college.
According to the Suffolk County district attorney's office, Suffolk police arrested Gwaltney twice before, both times in 2006. He was charged with marijuana possession and possession of stolen property, both misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and was fined $200 in both cases.
Police identified the other Huntington burglary suspects as Jaquese Jones, 18, of 105-4 Howells Rd., Bay Shore; Nouvelle Lucas, 17, of 96 Arlington St., Wyandanch; Demetrius Edwards, 19, of 79 Levey Blvd., Wyandanch; and Tahjiea Carpenter, 17, of 970 Park Ave., Huntington.
Bail was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond for Lucas; $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond for Edwards and $90,000 cash or $200,000 bond for Carpenter, who also faced charges of burglarizing other homes in Huntington. Arraignment information for Jones was not available late Wednesday. All the defendants are due back in court Friday.