No matter what Charles Thompson does for the rest of his life, he knows some will always see him as the fallen football hero on the cover of Sports Illustrated in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.
His 1989 arrest and guilty plea on cocaine charges ended his college football career at the University of Oklahoma in spectacular and public fashion. Thompson said it also changed him profoundly, which is why he put so much effort into defending himself when he felt he was wrongly arrested on a much less serious complaint in 2006.
Oklahoma City agreed last week to pay Thompson $50,000 and issue a letter of regret to settle a lawsuit he filed claiming he was wrongfully arrested in 2006 for public intoxication and disturbing the peace. City officials declined to comment on the case.
Thompson said Friday he admitted his crimes in college and paid the price for them because he knew what he did was wrong. Since that time, he has built a new life for himself.
"I'm content with who I've become today," Thompson said.
"The reason I had a problem with this case is that it did not represent who I've become. That was important."
The Sports Illustrated cover showing Thompson in handcuffs was the image that came to typify the excesses of college football in the late 1980s. A year earlier, Thompson was quarterbacking the No. 1 ranked Sooners as they nearly won a national championship.
"That was a young kid who made a mistake," Thompson said. "I was convicted on that both through the courts and on my heart. I came out a different person."
Thompson said he became a rededicated Christian. When he was released from prison, he began speaking to kids about the dangers of drugs. As embarrassing as his arrest and imprisonment were, Thompson doesn't shy away from the subject because he sees it as a powerful story that enables him to reach young people on a different level.
"That has been the platform that has allowed me to do a lot of good things in the lives of kids," he said. "That's what motivates me moving forward."
Thompson founded a little league football program that grew to more than 30 teams in 2006. On Nov. 17, 2006, Thompson rented a room at the Residence Inn, 4361 W Reno Ave., for a group of parents and kids in preparation for a televised game the next day.
The kids watched film of themselves playing during the day. After the kids left, a group of parents and coaches stayed to paint banners and make final preparations for the game.
About midnight, a hotel employee called police saying she had received several noise complaints about Thompson's group.
Thompson and the others in the room claimed they weren't making noise and that hotel officials confused them for another room where a loud party was going on.
According to a police report, officers arrived to find a belligerent Thompson who smelled of alcohol. After his arrest, police said he asked them if they knew who he was and yelled at others in the room to get Mayor Mick Cornett on the phone so he could fix the situation.
Thompson and five witnesses said he had been in the room all day, there was no alcohol in the room, and Thompson had not been drinking.
Thompson acknowledged he was upset. He paid $200 to rent the room and didn't agree with police telling him he had to leave. He said he also was bothered by the officers' behavior.
Michael Barkett, Thompson's attorney, said the police report doesn't give all the details.
"While a lot of people have focused on Charles being upset and arguing with the police officer, in the depositions the officer admitted he ramped up the situation by arriving and running warrant checks on everyone in the room," Barkett said. "The police officer started using profanity and threatening to take people to jail."
Thompson was arrested when he stepped out of the door of the hotel room onto a deck in front of the room.
Court orders criticize officers' actions
Thompson refused to pay the $69 fine and took the matter to court. The disturbing the peace charge was dropped, but a city judge sided with officers on the public intoxication arrest, convicting Thompson based on the testimony of three police officers who said Thompson smelled of alcohol, his eyes were bloodshot and his speech slightly slurred.
The conviction was overturned by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which said there was clearly not enough evidence to support the charge.
Rulings in the recently settled lawsuit go into more detail about why the arrest was problematic and could explain why the city was willing to settle the case.
In one order, U.S. District Judge Lee West said that although state law does not require a sobriety test, officers must observe impaired physical responses or mental judgment. West said Thompson did not stumble or stagger on his walk to the patrol car, and loud and argumentative behavior is not enough to justify such an arrest.
"The Court finds that no reasonable arresting officer, confronted with the facts and circumstances, would have concluded that Thompson's mental judgment and physical responses were so materially impaired to believe that he was intoxicated," West's order said.
In another order, West said the disturbing the peace arrest was without probable cause because neither the officer nor the hotel employee who signed the complaint witnessed the behavior.
Thompson said he doesn't want people to think all police officers are bad, merely that the officers in his case behaved inappropriately.
He said he also hopes the case will educate people about how little evidence there is in many public intoxication arrests.
"We are one of the few states that doesn't require some sort of test," Thompson said. "The public automatically assumes the person failed a sobriety test or a breathalyzer. I think to some degree, it will open some people's eyes."
Barkett the case could have far reaching implications if others are willing to challenge such arrests.
"I'm not trying to say that everyone is innocent, but in cases where there is really no evidence, I think it should be challenged," Barkett said. "We all have a Fourth Amendment Constitutional right to be free from illegal search and seizure and that includes arrest. It takes someone like Charles willing to challenge these kinds of illegal arrests. It's going to take more than simply saying bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and smell of alcohol in a police report to arrest someone."
That has been the platform that has allowed me to do a lot of good things in the lives of kids. That's what motivates me moving forward."