Rising basketball star Tony Farmer’s tragic fall

By James W. Breedlove

Tony Farmer, a junior at Garfield Heights High School in Ohio, was a standout basketball star ranked among the top 100 high school players in the country.  He was already being courted by stellar colleges like Ohio State, Xavier, Illinois, Dayton, Penn State and Michigan State.

The 6-foot-7 power forward had every reason to envision that his fame and fortune was waiting just around the corner; that beat sports writers were researching his name to write the next Lebron James or Michael Jordan comparison sequel or what kind of house he would buy his mother with that first million dollar check some NBA franchise would beg him to take.

But in a matter of minutes on August 22 , 2012 Tony Farmer’s dreams morphed into the plot line for a modern day Shakespearean tragedy as Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Pamela Barker levied a three year prison sentence for the kidnapping, felonious assault, robbery, and intimidation of his ex-girlfriend.

Farmer had been indicted after an altercation with his ex-girlfriend, 18 year-old Andrea Lane, at her apartment last April.  According to police reports, he assaulted her, dragged her out of her apartment, took her keys, phone, bank card, and computer, and later threatened her via text and voicemail.  She had refused his attempts to reconcile their relationship.

Most of the vicious assault had been captured on the apartment’s surveillance video and Farmer had pleaded guilty to all the charges.

During the emotional sentencing hearing dozens of friends, family, former teachers and coaches had packed the courtroom to offer their support for leniency and a sentencing of probation.

A local Cleveland newspaper reported that Sonny Johnson, the varsity basketball coach at Garfield Heights High School, told Judge Barker that Farmer understood the seriousness of what he did. “If you give him a chance, he’s in good hands,” Johnson told the judge.

Two of Farmer’s former teachers also spoke, including Joni Wanderstock, his english teacher.  “Instead of his massive height,” she said, “I see his massive heart.”

Ex-girlfriend Lane spoke on Farmer’s behalf even though they had broken up. She asked the Judge not to send him to prison.  “I know he was a good person,” she pleaded. “I hope he still is.”

There was a hushed and respectful silence as Farmer was called to address the court.  Even at the young age of 18 he was an imposing sight standing at the podium, towering over the two court deputies that stood behind him and his lawyer who stood at this side.

Yet, this behemoth, dressed in a bright orange jail jumpsuit with hands cuffed behind his back, looked beaten as he faced the gallery of supporters and apologized to Lane, her family and to his family.  He then told the judge, “I’m really not a bad kid,” and asked for the chance to finish his last year in high school so he could earn a basketball scholarship and pursue his career.

But Barker reminded him that the apartment building security video shows him dragging Lane by her hair, kicking her in the head as she cowers in a corner.  “You can see the fear on her face.” the judge emphatically emphasized.

Judge Barker then began to read the sentence for each of the four counts. Three years on count one.  Farmer turned to his attorney in wide eyed disbelief. Two years on count two. Farmer again leaned toward his attorney in a state of shock while asking a barely audible question, “I got three years?”

As the judge began to read the sentence for count three Farmer swayed, his eyes rolling upward as the reality that a life changing tsunami was sweeping over him while simultaneously a giant career ending sinkhole was swallowing him.  He muttered an obvious expletive, and collapsed to the floor.  The two deputies were unable to stop his fall and for a few moments this hulk of a boy-man lay crumbled at their feet, dazed but conscious.

Anguished cries erupted from the gallery as Farmer sank to the floor.  The deputies, one male and one female, tried to pick him up but the combination of his weight and hands behind his back made it difficult to leverage him upward.  Meanwhile the judge was reminding the court that she was not finished with the sentencing.  As she read the fourth count sentence the deputies struggled to hoist Farmer to his feet and steadied him by holding on to his arms.

The Tony Farmer tragedy should be a required case study for young men, especially those who are on the threshold of transformational careers. They should be taught that a “Chris Brown” response to any relationship dispute is not acceptable.

Too often these promising phenoms are not challenged when they begin to exhibit bad behavior symptoms.  Instead, they are handled with kid gloves; to their detriment and to society’s detriment.

Ms. Lane in her statement to the court said that she realized that Farmer needed help.  That was the reason she ended their relationship.  Yet none of the coaches, teachers, friends, or his mother who appeared as character witnesses acknowledged this problem in their statements. That benign neglect was the genesis of the Tony Farmer tragedy.

Judge Barker said she would review Farmer’s sentence after 180 days before there could be any possibility of early release.

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