TALLAHASSEE -- Jameis Winston hungered.
The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Florida State University was busted Tuesday night for allegedly leaving a Tallahassee Publix with $32.73 worth of crab legs and crawfish he didn’t pay for — an otherwise minor shoplifting case that became nationwide news when it broke the following morning on the Tomahawk Nation fan blog.
Winston is one of the most-celebrated and most-scrutinized figures in college sports after leading the Seminoles this year to a national football title while also facing accusations of raping an FSU student.
State Attorney Willie Meggs concluded in December that he had too little evidence to prosecute the case successfully and pressed no charges.
Nicknamed “Famous Jameis,” Winston is one of the most-recognizable figures in town and an employee spotted him leaving with the unpaid-for goods just before 9 pm. Publix reported it to the Leon County Sheriffs Office, who found Winston at his home about three hours later.
“Jameis was very cooperative,” Maj. Mike Wood said at a press conference. “He did, in fact, acknowledge he had left Publix without paying for the items. He indicated to the deputies he had forgotten. And when he got home he realized that he had not paid. But he in fact had made no effort to contact Publix or return to pay prior to the deputies’ arrival.”
Wood, who stressed that Winston technically wasn’t arrested, said Winston would enter a pre-trial program, pay a $20 fine, perform community service and make restitution to Publix.
Unlike the atmosphere of the rape allegations that dogged Winston, the shoplifting case was met with amused mockery.
Some FSU fans jokingly said their school’s initials stood for “Free Seafood University.” Facebook and Twitter were full of doctored photos of Winston morphing into a crab, running away from Publix with seafood or clutching crab legs like a football as he stiff-arms a University of Auburn player decked out like a grocery-store clerk in the aisles.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a fan of arch-rival University of Florida, got in his digs as well.
“Everyone loves #FreshFromFlorida crab legs,” Putnam said on Twitter, referencing his department’s program to promote in-state harvests.
Wood said he didn’t know what type of crabs or crawfish Winston took or whether the athlete had devoured it by the time he was questioned by deputies.
Wood said Winston’s time in Publix was captured on in-house video cameras, which showed him ordering the seafood from a counter and then milling around the store. Winston at one point picked up butter, but ultimately put the package down before departing without paying.
The employee who saw Winston, Wood said, thought the player was leaving temporarily to get a cart. But when Winston didn’t return, he reported the theft.
“While we are unable to share our loss prevention tactics/techniques for obvious reasons, we can say that our processes and thresholds were fair and consistent,” Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous said in a written statement.
Shortly before the sheriff’s office 2 p.m. news conference on Thursday, Florida State baseball coach Mike Martin announced he had suspended Winston indefinitely until he completes the pre-trial program. Winston is a relief pitcher for the Seminoles.
FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher said in a statement that he supports Martin’s decision.
Winston has had other incidents involving law enforcement authorities in Tallahassee.
In November 2012, police were called to an apartment complex in which 13 windows had been damaged by BB guns. Winston and his roommate at the time said Florida State players were engaged in a series of “battles” with each other, although they denied shooting BB guns themselves. Winston was not charged with any crime.
In another incident, police records show Winston came into a Burger King with three men but did not order food, instead asking for a water cup he repeatedly filled with soda over an employee’s objections. The report says Winston was never interviewed about the incident because the restaurant declined to prosecute.
In the alleged rape case, the accuser claimed she was assaulted before Winston became a star. The investigation lagged for months after Tallahassee Police Department officials said they were told the accuser wanted to drop the case, but the woman’s lawyer denied that.
The accuser’s lawyers have said the police department botched the investigation because detectives didn’t quickly identify possible witnesses or obtain surveillance tape from the bar where the victim says she was first approached by Florida State football players.
Criminal justice issues aside, the news about Winston comes as student athletes consider unionizing, complaining that they have little money themselves while their talents earn their schools and coaches millions of dollars.
The frustration of student athletes was summed recently by University of Connecticut basketball player Shabazz Napier.
“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said recently, “there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: FSU coach Mike Martin’s last name was misspelled on second reference.