BOSTON — As former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez sits in a private cell for his protection, a portrait is emerging of a man whose life away from the field included brushes with violence that started as long ago as his freshman year at the University of Florida.
Details of a series of altercations and gun incidents linked to the Pro Bowler have surfaced since Hernandez was arrested June 26 in the death of a semi-pro football player who was dating the sister of his fiancee.
Hernandez has pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, whose body was found June 17 about a mile from the defendant’s mansion in North Attleborough, Mass.
The athlete’s defense team has called the district attorney’s case circumstantial and has said Hernandez looks forward to clearing his name.
But even before the 23-year-old’s murder recent arrest, public records and interviews show he was no stranger to talking to police, first in Florida and then in the Boston area.
A sworn court complaint from Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit details Hernandez’s apparent involvement in a May 2007 fight at a restaurant called The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla. The partially redacted document says the waiter told police that Hernandez, who was then 17, punched him in the head while he was escorting the subject out of the business after a dispute about an alleged non-payment of a bill.
The waiter suffered a burst eardrum in the altercation.
Tim Tebow, now a member of Patriots and at the time Florida’s star quarterback, is listed as a witness on report, which classifies the offense as “felony battery.” It wasn’t clear Tuesday how the case was settled.
It said Tebow’s involvement came after Hernandez called him over to try to intervene in a verbal altercation before the assault.
Also in 2007, the Orlando Sentinel reported Hernandez was among three Florida football players and another who had gone on to the NFL that police in Gainesville questioned after a double shooting that happened after the team lost a game in 2007. The paper reported Hernandez’s mother confirmed he was among those questioned but police at the time said none of the players were suspects.
Hernandez declined comment at the time, the paper reported. A request for comment left with a spokesman for Hernandez’s legal team Tuesday evening was not immediately returned.
Although Hernandez is facing a murder charge, his troubles may not end there.
Police in Hernandez’s hometown of Bristol, Conn., said Tuesday that Boston police have asked for their help with a double homicide investigation linked to the former NFL star.
Bristol Police Lt. Kevin Morrell said the request from Boston police in the July 2012 double homicide was based on evidence developed through the investigation of Lloyd’s slaying. He said police were asked to search the same home in Bristol for both investigations, and they seized a vehicle at the address Friday.
Two men died in the shooting in Boston’s South End on July 15, 2012 and another was wounded. Witnesses reported seeing gunfire coming from a gray SUV with Rhode Island plates that was aimed at a vehicle carrying the victims, 29-year-old Daniel Jorge Correia de Abreu and 28-year-old Safiro Teixeira Furtado.
Boston police have declined to comment on whether Hernandez is being looked as a possible suspect in that case from last summer.
Hernandez has been connected to still more incidents involving guns, although none have resulted in criminal charges against him.
A man who claims Hernandez shot him in the face in February after an argument at a Florida strip club filed a civil lawsuit days before police arrested Hernandez.
Plaintiff Alexander Bradley claims in the civil action that Hernandez shot him with a handgun, causing him to lose his right eye. But after someone found the Connecticut man bleeding in an alley behind a Palm Beach County store after hearing a gunshot, he told police he didn’t know who shot him and gave only a vague description of possible assailants.
Bradley’s lawyer David Jaroslawicz wouldn’t comment on Tuesday about the nature of the alleged dispute between his client and Hernandez. He said the two flew to South Florida together before getting into a dispute at a Miami club.
The attorney said Bradley, who worked for Stanley Steamer before the shooting, had done some work for Hernandez and that the two also hung out socially a few times and had known each other for several years.
“The last thing we expected was a few days after we filed the lawsuit police would find a dead body a few miles from his house,” the attorney said in a phone interview.
Authorities have also linked Hernandez to a May 18 altercation outside a bar in Providence, Rhode Island, that involved a gun.
A prosecutor with the Bristol County district attorney’s office has said that a man who matched the description of a man seen on video with Hernandez on the night of Lloyd’s slaying was seen putting a gun under a car during the Rhode Island incident.
Authorities traced that gun to a Florida gun shop.
Then following Lloyd’s death, police said they recovered a .22 caliber gun about a quarter-mile from the defendant’s home — a weapon authorities said was traced to the same store.