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Seahawks / NFL

Thursday, January 11, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tank Johnson: opportunity, mistakes, trouble

Seattle Times staff reporter

GURNEE, Ill. — Tank Johnson's latest trouble started here, past the sign on Oplaine Road that welcomes visitors to a "community of opportunity."

Homes are brick, lawns are big, and basketball hoops guard driveways. Local landmarks include Mary's Greenhouse, Warren High School and a Six Flags amusement park. American flags hang from poles on the main drag, the words "United We Stand" swaying with the breeze.

Mean streets these are not. They could pass for any suburb around Seattle, more space and less traffic notwithstanding. And then there is Tank Johnson's house — notable last month for guns and ammunition found inside and the pit bulls caged out back.

The village's most infamous resident spent Wednesday practicing about eight miles east on Interstate 94 in Lake Forest, Ill., home of the Bears facility.

Johnson, the former University of Washington defensive tackle, 25, pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor weapons charges a day earlier.

"No, sir," Johnson said when a mob of reporters moved swiftly toward his locker. He pushed open the door at the back of the locker room and exited.

A framed picture of his two young daughters sat prominently in a shelf on Johnson's locker. They live with Johnson in the home where police found six guns — including a .50-caliber Desert Eagle and a semiautomatic rifle — and 550 rounds of ammunition in a Dec. 14 raid, the culmination of an investigation started in November.

Johnson faces 10 misdemeanor counts of possessing weapons or ammunition without a firearm owner's identification card. He could be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail if convicted.

The Daily Herald reported this week that police went to Johnson's home 30 times since December 2004 — including 11 times for complaints about the pit bulls; a domestic dispute involving another man's fiancee; and gunshots fired from his backyard on Delany Road.

That's only half the trouble. Because one day after Johnson posted bail, he left the suburbs for Chicago and the Ice Bar on North Clark Street. On Wednesday afternoon, there was no activity out front, just an unlit sign.

This provided a stark contrast to the early morning hours of Dec. 16, when a scuffle broke out inside the club and Johnson's longtime friend and bodyguard, William Posey, died from a gunshot. Police accused an alleged former gang member of the shooting.

Johnson addressed Chicago media Dec. 19. He apologized to teammates, friends and family. He talked about the self-help checklist he submitted to team executives.

The Bears suspended Johnson for one game against the Detroit Lions. But while they discussed releasing him, they ultimately did not. They stood behind him again Wednesday.

"As a friend, as a teammate, we're all helping him," said Olin Kreutz, a fellow UW alumnus. "He doesn't need counseling. He's going through what a lot of 20-year-olds go through. We all make mistakes."

Mistakes that, in this case, could have been avoided. That's according to Ed Johnson, who runs a professional bodyguard business, Overtime Inc., with Kelly Davis.

Davis spent four years keeping Dennis Rodman out of headlines. And when Seahawks safety Ken Hamlin sustained injuries from a fight at a nightclub last season, Davis explained the three rules professional athletes would be wise to live by — don't go out alone; don't drive after you drink a sip of alcohol; and no guns. Sounds simple, right?

Not exactly.

"Amazing, isn't it?" Ed Johnson said in a phone interview. "It's like déjà vu."

Like Hamlin, Tank Johnson has a history with law enforcement, including two other arrests since Chicago drafted him in the second round in 2004. The latest arrest could be a violation of his probation for a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon. The irony: Johnson told The Times in a 2003 interview that he wanted to be a prison warden.

Johnson experienced a rough childhood in Gary, Ind., before moving to Tempe, Ariz., and problems with moodiness and insubordination at UW. He did not return for his final season of college eligibility, and the Bears knew those problems when they drafted him.

Ed Johnson said that teams have a responsibility to protect such players. He also said that players shouldn't hire friends as bodyguards, leaving that work to people like Davis, who worked undercover narcotics on the West Side of Chicago.

"Give a friend a ticket to the game, but that's as far as it goes," Ed Johnson said. "We also wouldn't recommend athletes having guns. There are too many opportunities for the gun to get misused, for them to be in situations where they think they have to defend themselves, but they're not really trained for.

"There are people out there who play dirty. They have a lot less to lose than you do."

Tank Johnson's relatives and former coaches did not return interview requests. And his legal troubles are far from over.

On Tuesday, a Lake County judge approved Johnson's travel to Miami if the Bears are in the Super Bowl. The judge, a Packers fan, joked that Johnson won't need to leave the state. There's still the matter of his probation in Cook County, though.

At the Bears' practice facility, those legal troubles weren't the issue of the day. That belonged to the uncertainty surrounding quarterback Rex Grossman, followed by last season's playoff loss to Carolina, followed by the Seahawks game earlier this season.

"I expect him to be Tank," Kreutz said. "A dominating interior defensive lineman."

Greg Bishop: 206-464-3191 or gbishop@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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