Trouble returns to Carl Eller
Police say Vikings great assaulted cops after chase
By Mara H. Gottfried
Article Last Updated: 04/10/2008 12:30:32 AM CDT
Two Minneapolis police officers found themselves "in the fight of their lives" Wednesday against a man who fled from them, hit them and threw one on a car. They didn't realize at first that the man was Minnesota Vikings legend Carl Eller, and they were "crushed" when they found out.
Police Inspector Mike Martin said Eller sped through a stop sign in his neighborhood near Theodore Wirth Park, led police on a chase that reached more than 60 mph and assaulted officers when they tried to arrest him.
Officers smelled alcohol on Eller's breath, but they won't know how much he was drinking because Eller refused to take breath or blood tests, Martin said.
Police used Tasers on Eller four times and put him in a neck hold to restrain him.
He was arrested on suspicion of fourth-degree assault, fleeing police in a motor vehicle and refusing to take an alcohol test. He was being held Wednesday in the Hennepin County Jail and hadn't been charged.
Officers Gil Antaya and Seth Porras were treated at Hennepin County Medical Center for minor injuries suffered in the scuffle and released.
The officers, who are in their 20s, "are not small" — Antaya is about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds; Porras is about 6 feet 2 inches tall and 230 pounds — but they described Eller as "being extremely strong," Martin said.
Eller, 66, is about 6 feet 6 and 270 pounds. He played 16 seasons in the NFL, including the first 15 with the Vikings from 1964-78 as a member of the famed Purple People Eaters defensive line.
Eller, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, has said he began drinking alcohol when he was in high school and, by the time he left football, he was abusing other substances, including cocaine.
Eller sought treatment, helped set up the NFL's first drug program and worked for the state of Minnesota to counsel young people about substance abuse. In 2006, he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired after he was arrested for
driving 97 mph in a 55 mph zone.
Police hope Wednesday's incident will lead Eller to "get the help he apparently needs," Martin said.
Martin gave this account of the confrontation:
Antaya, a Minneapolis officer for about six years, and Porras, an officer for just under one year, spotted a silver Mercedes SUV speed through a stop sign at Eighth and Russell avenues north at 12:57 a.m.
The SUV appeared to swerve toward the squad car, and officers believed the driver was trying to hit them.
The officers gave chase. Eller fled for about a half-mile to his home in the 1000 block of Washburn Avenue North.
Police ordered him to get out of the vehicle, but Eller drove into his garage, got out and tried to enter his home. He screamed at the officers to get out of his garage and threatened to assault and kill them.
Eller struck the two officers several times. He threw one of them onto the hood of his SUV.
One tried to use a Taser on Eller, but he ripped the prongs out of the device. An officer who arrived as backup used his Taser three times. It had little or no effect.
When officers called for backup, Eller could be heard screaming as the police shouted, "We need help here," Martin said.
The officers restrained Eller in a neck hold until backup arrived.
The incident lasted four or five minutes.
Martin said that when investigators questioned him, Eller didn't ask for a lawyer, had "selective memory of what occurred" and denied "any of the events that led up to this."
The Hennepin County Attorney's Office has until noon today to charge Eller or release him.
The assault and fleeing police offenses are felonies, while the test refusal is a gross misdemeanor. Under Minnesota law, Eller is subject to having his driver's license revoked for a year for refusing to take the test.
On March 20, 2006, when Eller pleaded guilty to fourth-degree DWI, he was put on probation for two years, fined $1,000 and ordered to complete five years of community service.
People fleeing police and fighting with officers "isn't necessarily unusual," Martin said, but they tend to be younger than Eller. "He's old enough to know better," he said.
The Vikings had no official reaction.
Eller spent more than an hour Tuesday afternoon at a gate at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where Northwest Airlines kicked off its new nonstop service from the Twin Cities to Paris. Northwest dressed up the gate for the launch and held a news conference before the first departure.
Eller, wearing a purple sports coat, chatted with waiting passengers and posed for photos with several people. It's unclear whether he had been invited to the launch or just stopped by.
Rhoda Fukushima, Don Seeholzer and John Welbes contributed to this report. Mara H. Gottfried can be reached