Sharper indicted in Tempe, Ariz., rape investigation

Darren Sharper’s legal woes continued to escalate this week, as an Arizona grand jury indicted him on two counts of sexual assault and three counts of administering dangerous drugs.

Sharper faces rape allegations in five states, all assaults of women who described falling into a stupor after they had drinks with him.

In several of the cases, including in Arizona, the women recounted blacking out or becoming disoriented after drinking a shot provided by Sharper, a former NFL star who played two seasons for the Saints. Investigators tested a glass taken from a Tempe, Ariz., apartment where Sharper is alleged to have mixed shots for three women and found a trace of zolpidem, a sedative commonly known as Ambien.

While Sharper now faces charges in Arizona and Los Angeles, authorities in New Orleans said Wednesday they are in no rush to charge him with two alleged rapes in the fall in the Warehouse District. New Orleans police issued a warrant for Sharper’s arrest for those rapes on Feb. 27, after which he was taken into Los Angeles jail custody.

While a Los Angeles judge last week said she would have to release Sharper if Orleans Parish prosecutors did not charge him by Thursday, the Arizona indictment, and a warrant for Sharper’s arrest issued by the Tempe Police Department, could render a decision on charges out of New Orleans moot for now.

Los Angeles prosecutors declined to comment on the new charges, and a spokesman for the Maricopa County Attorney in Arizona did not respond to messages seeking comment. But a Tempe police spokesman said defendants charged with sexual assault aren’t eligible for bail in Arizona.

Skip Donau, Sharper’s attorney in Arizona, said he planned to meet next Thursday with the prosecutor handling the Tempe case to work out a way to get Sharper to that state for his first court hearing.

Echoing statements from Sharper’s other attorneys, Donau said he believes his client will be found innocent after his day in court.

“Speaking only for the Arizona case, my client … vigorously denies the allegations,” Donau said. “We expect at the end of the process he will be exonerated.”

Earlier Wednesday, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro told WWL-TV that his office would not push this week to secure a quick grand jury indictment against Sharper to ensure he would remain jailed in Los Angeles.

Sharper has been in an L.A. jail since the NOPD warrant was issued, but a California judge last week said she would release him on bail if New Orleans prosecutors didn’t file charges. He had been free on a $1 million bond after being charged with two rapes in Los Angeles last month.

In New Orleans court documents, police say the two victims woke up at separate times in September at Sharper’s apartment in the 700 block of Tchoupitoulas Street in a “stupor” and each later told police that they thought they had been raped while under the influence of an unknown substance.

Several people later told police that Sharper and Erik Nunez, a friend and suspected accomplice now free on bond, said they had sex with the women without their consent, according to warrants.

But Cannizzaro said he would not present the case to a grand jury on Thursday, saying the office isn’t ready.

“We’re not in a position at this time to bring formal charges against him,” Cannizzaro told WWL-TV. “At least we’re not going to be able to do that by Thursday.”

Still, Cannizzaro said the NOPD case against Sharper is strong.

In addition, Cannizzaro said evidence of Sharper’s crimes in other states could end up being introduced in an Orleans Parish court, if he is charged. “We have the right to consider the cases that are taking place in California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida. We have the right to introduce evidence in those states in our Orleans Parish charge,” he said.

Just which jurisdiction will prosecute Sharper first remains uncertain.

That may depend on which jurisdiction prosecutors agree has the strongest evidence against the former Saints player. Among the three states currently in play — Louisiana, Arizona and California — Louisiana carries the stiffest prison sentence — possible life — should Sharper be convicted of aggravated rape.

A sexual-assault conviction in Arizona carries a maximum sentence of 14 years if an individual has no prior felony convictions.

“Our office is in contact with the prosecutors’ offices in L.A., as well as other jurisdictions,” said Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office. He declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We don’t put time frames on this,” Bowman said.

In a Tempe Police Department report, an Arizona woman described becoming disoriented and weak after drinking 1½ vodka shots prepared by Sharper at her apartment in November. Sharper was in Tempe, a town near Phoenix, to visit this woman’s roommate, whom he met in Las Vegas a year before.

She described a friend, who had previously appeared sober, immediately falling asleep on a couch after drinking another of his shots. Later that night, the woman told police that she saw Sharper naked and having sex with her friend, who she believed was still unconscious.

A third woman, the roommate who knew Sharper and described him as a friend with whom she had a sexual relationship, told Tempe police that she believed he might have raped her while she lay unconscious on her bed after a November night of drinking at two clubs in Scottsdale, Ariz. A sexual assault examination on this woman was inconclusive, according to a 20-page narrative of interviews by Tempe police.