JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Facing a felony charge in the vandalism of his former teammate's car and lingering accusations of bad behavior, Derrick "Jabar" Gaffney is going on the record -- saying he's been silent long enough and wants to set the record straight.
For the first time in years, the former football player says it's time to explain who he is and why he believes he is misunderstood.
Sitting in a conference room on the second floor of News4Jax studios, calm and focused, Gaffney told his side to the I-TEAM about accusations that have been made against him, his faith in God and family, and the game of football.
Jenese Harris: Do you remember the first time you picked up a football?
Jabar Gaffney: Yes, 2 years old. That was a gift that my mom and dad gave me, and I just ran with it.
Gaffney's talent is not just his own; it's embedded in his DNA. His father, Derrick, uncles Don, Warren and Johnny all played football, too.
His fans will say he was quick on his feet and with his hands as a football player for Raines High School in the 1997 state championship.
"I was a member of the '97 State team, got to catch the game winning touchdown in that game, and we were the first public school to win one," Gaffney said.
He got the attention of recruiters, but he stayed close to home and played as a wide receiver for the University of Florida before leaving after two years for a career in the NFL.
Accused of theft at UF
At times, his success on the field became a secondary headline. While at UF, Gaffney was accused of stealing $240 and a watch from Florida Field's locker room. He was dropped from the team.
Gaffney signed a deferred prosecution agreement for felony petty theft that included restitution, and the charges were dropped. He apologized and was allowed back on the team.
Accused of vandalism
Fast forward to the week of Father's Day in 2018, when the car of Gaffney's former teammate and friend Lito Sheppard is caught on surveillance camera being vandalized. According to the police report, Sheppard told investigators he believed the man seen in the video was Jabar Gaffney.
Allegations of vandalism
Sheppard posted a photo from the surveillance video of the incident on his Facebook page, and people began to post that the man had similar features to Gaffney, and they believed that he was the man with a mystery woman. Gaffney says he didn't do it and doesn't know why Sheppard is accusing him.
Sheppard and Jabar Gaffney were childhood friends, playing ball together in high school and college. But, their friendship turned sour.
Harris: When did it fall apart? Your relationship with Lito Sheppard?
Gaffney: I don't really know? Father's Day.
Harris: Of last year?
Harris: So everything between you and Lito Sheppard has been okay you had an okay relationship with him until last year when you were accused of vandalizing his vehicle?
Gaffney insists he didn’t have a grudge against Sheppard and Gaffney insists he is not the man in the surveillance video damaging Sheppard's car.
Harris: So have you seen the video? The surveillance video or the photos at least of the surveillance video that people have alleged is you? Have you seen it?
Gaffney: Yes, I have seen it.
Harris: And people say that it's you?
Gaffney: I say that they are lying.
Harris: Where were you that day?
Gaffney: I was with my kids. I was at church, and then I spent the rest of that day with my kids at the house. We were watching movies and we left to go to Popeye's which is just a couple of miles down the street from my house and came back. That's where I was -- with my family.
Gaffney's arrest warrant obtained by the I-TEAM claims the night of the vandalism, another surveillance camera -- one from the Jacksonville neighborhood where Gaffney was living -- captured Gaffney and a woman leaving the neighborhood in the same Audi spotted a short time later pulling up to Sheppard's BMW in Jax Beach
Gaffney told us he was with his children that day, and he does not know who that woman is in the surveillance photos. He showed us a copy of a Popeye's transaction from his bank account from that same day that he said supports his claim of not being the person who vandalized Sheppard's car. However, the document does not show the time of the transaction made at the Neptune Beach restaurant.
"I have pictures of me on Father's Day showing what I look like. The guy in that picture, he looks like he had a haircut I have very long hair and again there's no tattoos and again the guy at the beach, it wasn't me," said Gaffney.
Gaffney told us despite the felony charge against him, and despite the fact that Sheppard filed a temporary restraining order that later expired, he still sees Sheppard as a brother.
Harris: If you could talk to Lito right now, what would you say?
Gaffney: Why? That's all I could say. Why? There is nothing else. He knows, he knows that I didn't do it. He knows that it was not me or else there would be all kinds of evidence.
Gaffney's next pre-trial hearing in the vandalism case is set for May 14 with jury selection in his trial set for May 20. However, his attorneys have filed a motion to delay the trial.
The I-TEAM reached out to Lito Sheppard for comment on Gaffney's interview and he said, "I have nothing to comment about. I'll let him (Jabar Gaffney) proceed."
Held under the Baker Act
Harris: There is the charge about the vandalism for the vehicle, then we hear information about you being suicidal or wanting to hurt yourself. What was that?
Gaffney: That was, I don't know. I don't know. That was girls being upset with me being brutally honest it was two girls that I was talking to and trying to make connections with and along the way things got turned ugly and we weren't going to see each other.
Gaffney: They made a call to police and said that I wanted to kill myself and that was totally false. I was on the way to Tampa that day. My son had a band recital. He was playing in the band and that was his first time he was going to be performing and I was going to see my son that day. I had never once tried to kill myself at all.
Harris: So then, how do you explain police being at that house and saying that you were taken and committed somewhere? Are you saying that never happened?
Gaffney: I just came out because I was getting phone calls and they were saying that the police were at my house. I said the police are not at my house, I'm in here. I got this call from my sister I told her no I'm fine. She was like are you sure? I was like, ain't nobody at my house because I didn't know that anything was going on. I had took a nap and I was getting ready to get on the road and I walked outside and it's like 50 guns pointed at me and I just I just dropped like I didn't know what to do I just froze up because that was terrifying. I didn't expect to see a whole bunch of guns drawn out on me in front of my house. They took me to the mental health place and locked me up there.
Gaffney said he was at the mental health facility for three days. Prior to arriving there, he said he got sick -- but it was not because he had ingested pills or was trying to kill himself.
Accusations of mental health issues, brain injury
"When I got to the place, they took a sample, drug tested me, didn't find anything. Didn't find no sleeping pills at all in my system. The police were at my house. They came in, they went through my house. There was no gun found in my house or anything," he said.
Gaffney said the women made a false claim to police.
Harris: So you are saying you were falsely committed in a mental facility for three days?
Harris: What was it like being in there?
Gaffney: It was tough, but I mean I prayed about it and I was just like, God wouldn't have me here if it wasn't a reason behind it I guess. I mean it did good. I got to talk to a lot of people there about this and I talked to the doctor. He said that I was fine, that he just wanted me to stay because I could be a good influence on people that was the whole reason for keeping me there not because I was trying to commit suicide or because I had anything in my system. Got to meet with people, got to pray with people. Made friends with a skin head. I mean it was, I tried to make the best of it so that it wouldn't tear me down that I was in there for no reason.
Accused of having a brain injury from playing football
Shortly after Jabar Gaffney was held for three days, his uncle, Councilman Reggie Gaffney, spoke to the I-TEAM about Jabar. His uncle claimed Jabar's mood had changed. Jabar told us he didn't know his uncle was doing the interview until News4Jax called, asking Jabar for a statement about his uncle's comments.
Harris: What do you have to say about what your uncle said?
Gaffney: It was very disheartening to hear coming from him, when they don't even, me and my uncle, we don't even talk too much.
Harris: So as far as your uncle, do you feel like he even has the ability or the right to say what he is saying?
Gaffney: No, not at all, anybody in my family that should've answered that question should've been my dad or my mom or grandmother.
Gaffney told us his legal issues have reached the ears of his children. He said he comforts them, explaining their dad is fine.
Harris: How do you explain that to them?
Gaffney: Before they could say anything I said, "You know I love you, right? You know your dad is not going anywhere?" They said, "We know." They smile, (I) hug them and that's it. That's the end of the conversation.
Accused of domestic violence
Jabar Gaffney has also had protective orders filed against him, but he said he's never hit a woman. But, he said women have hit him.
Allegations of domestic violence
Harris: You've also been accused of domestic violence, what do you have to say to that?
Gaffney: That it was all false.
Harris: Why was it false?
Gaffney: Because it was, it was females that were upset and trying to take me down and one of their words was...one of their own words was I am going to take down your whole empire and they just got mad at me for whatever reason it may have been. And trying to take a shot at ruining my name.
Harris: So you never hit a woman in your life?
Harris: Never hit a woman before?
Harris: Never did anything against a woman?
Gaffney: No, never, never before. I have been hit a lot and I have called the police on women and nothing ever happened.
Harris: And why have they been assaulting you?
Gaffney: The same thing. Jealousy for whatever reason.
Accusations of being a "troublemaker"
Harris: You have these incidents that keep happening and this person says to you, why you? Why do bad things keep happening to you and do you take an accountability for it?
Gaffney: I take accountability for everything that I have ever done in my life. I have always come clean on what I have done whether it was me by myself or other people with me. Like I have always just said my name and never told on anybody else.
For Gaffney, he believes the damage is already done. He told us his mistakes coupled with his name being tarnished has cost him honors at his alma mater.
Gaffney: It cost me part of my legacy with the University of Florida.
Harris: How so?
Gaffney: I am still not in the Athletic Hall of Fame right now. I am not in the Ring of Honor even though I meet the qualifications.
Gaffney: I was the best receiver that ever came through the University of Florida. There has never been a receiver that has two thousand-yard seasons back-to-back. Averaged 100 yards and a touchdown every game. Nobody has came through and done that at the university. Walter Camp, All-American everything, I was the team MVP, National Freshman of the Year, did everything to be in their Athletic Hall of Fame. But it seems like, after that Florida-Georgia thing and Hall of Fame induction, the hate started turning up a little more. The trouble came and from that point, I mean, it's 2019 and I still haven't been put in there, I mean, I know that has something to do with it.
For every accusation, Gaffney said he has been told to remain silent. He said he is tired of being silent. In breaking his silence, he recalls advice given to him from his former New England Patriots coach.
Gaffney: Coach Belichick always told us to speak for yourself so I am here to speak for myself I don't need anyone else to speaking for me anymore.
Harris: What is next for you in your life?
Gaffney: Just continuing what I have been doing, just trying to help the youth reach their potential work with Scott Park. Since we got Scott Park, we have kids going to college every year. It puts a smile on my face.
Gaffney said he has been working behind the scenes to help the youth football teams that practice and play there. As he helps the children with similar dreams of being an NFL star he is cutting people out of his personal life.
Accusations of being a "troublemaker"
"I am going to continue to live my life, I cut, cut a lot of people out of my life that's how I have been able to stay out of the limelight without negative people around, without people that want to be in your business," said Gaffney.
He told us his faith in God keeps him centered.
"I am not saying that I lived a perfect life but I know I am not close to what I am being perceived as now and that's not fair," he explained.
Since this interview, Gaffney says he now has a medicinal marijuana card for Florida, which allows him to smoke cannabis for health reasons.