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An assistant football coach at Tuskegee University faces federal drug trafficking and firearm charges, according to an indictment unsealed in Alabama on Wednesday.
Ramone Nickerson, a cornerbacks coach, faces two possession with the intent to distribute charges — one for marijuana and another for cocaine. He also faces a single count of possession of a firearm during a drug trafficking offense.
Louis V. Franklin, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, told USA TODAY Sports the charges stem from a search of Nickerson’s vehicle by a state trooper in Russell County on March 13.
Franklin said there was no evidence that Nickerson peddled drugs at Tuskegee University. Nickerson was found to have about three ounces of cocaine, a pound of marijuana, along with a .40 caliber handgun at the time of the search.
Typically, drug and gun charges like this would be handled by local prosecutors, but Franklin said the push by U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions to enforce federal statutes on the use of firearms in drug trafficking made this a federal case. Sessions sent a memo to 94 U.S. Attorneys in October that he wanted them to reemphasize the Project Safe Neighborhoods program to target local gangs and reduce gun violence.
“By having a gun and the drugs, that made this a big deal,” Franklin said.
Nickerson, who also played at Tuskegee University, was indicted by a federal grand jury on March 14, according to court records.
He was arraigned on Wednesday and was released on bond. Nickerson, 33, faces up to 25 years in federal prison if convicted on all three charges, a minimum of five for the gun charge alone.
“Coaches are role models, teachers and ‘stand-in’ moms and dads for our college athletes,” Franklin said in an email to USA TODAY Sports. “They show young adults how to grow into adulthood by making good choices. Ramone Nickerson should have been a role model, not just for the young athletes on the Tuskegee University football team, but also for every student at the university, as well as the neighborhood he lived in.
“Instead, he abandoned his responsibilities to the young athletes he coached, and made a choice to chase a fast dollar and expose the community to the dangers of drug trafficking. And, in doing so, he decided that money was more important than his good name, more important than his status as a role model, and more important than his community, as well as the young people growing up in it.”
In a statement to USA TODAY Sports, the school said: “The university has learned of Mr. Nickerson’s recent arrest, and because of the active investigation related to these charges, we cannot comment on his legal situation or employment standing at this time.”
The school website still listed Nickerson as an assistant coach Wednesday afternoon. Nickerson is a former Tuskegee defensive back and graduated in 2009.
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