Brian Banks: Convicted Innocence

Austin B.

Managing Editor

A star high school football player’s life was completely turned upside-down when a false accusation left him with five years in jail and a lifetime of changes. Brian Banks was put in jail for a crime he did not commit, and after not playing football for many years, he played on the Atlanta Falcons preseason roster.

Banks was born on July 24th, 1985, in Los Angeles, California. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School where he played football with many future professional players: DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles, Winston Justice of the Denver Broncos, and Marcedes Lewis of the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his junior year, Banks was named “Junior of the Year” by a high school football website called Rivals.com, and he was offered a scholarship to the University of Southern California by head coach Pete Carroll. With the scholarship, Banks verbally committed to the university; however, he would not be given the chance to follow through on his commitment.

In the summer of 2002, Banks’ whole life was changed when a fellow classmate at Long Beach Polytechnic, Wanetta Gibson, reported that Banks had raped her. Gibson’s story was that Banks dragged her into a stairway and behind the stairs at the high school and raped her. Despite not committing the crime, Banks was charged for the accusation, and based on the charges, he would face a sentence of up to 41 years to life in prison. Banks felt that because he was simply a teenage boy, a court case against a girl who claims to be a victim would be an impossible one to win. It was his word against hers. Knowing this, Banks decided to take a plea bargain, which is admitting to the crime in order to get a lesser prison sentence. After the plea bargain, Banks’ sentence was reduced to five years in prison with five years of probation, and after all this, he would be required to register as a sex offender wherever he lives.

The reasoning behind Gibson making up this story is for money. Along with her mother, Wanda Rhodes, Gibson sued the Long Beach Unified School District and claimed that the high school campus was an unprotected environment that was not safe for students. The lawsuit went to court in 2003, and after a hearing, Gibson’s family was awarded a one and a half million dollar settlement. In March of 2011, while Banks was still on probation, due to her guilty conscience, Gibson contacted Banks and arranged to meet with him. During the meeting, Gibson admitted that she had made up the story and that she did it for the money for her family. During the meeting, however, what Gibson did not know was that Banks had a recording device, and her admission was recorded on tape. Banks took the tape to the police. Despite having a first-hand confession, Gibson refused to admit to authorities what she had done. Regardless, her confession was on tape, and with the help of the Northern California Innocence Project and its attorneys, Los Angeles prosecutors reversed Banks’ conviction on May 24th, 2012. Gibson will be charged for the fraudulent information.

Finally being a free man once again, Banks picked up where he left off in his football career. In the summer of 2012, at 27 years old, Banks attended tryouts for many professional football teams including the Kansa City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Diego Chargers, and the Atlanta Falcons. United States History teacher Dr. Derek Engram states, “I’m impressed that he was able to trick her into getting aBrian Banks AB 2 confession, and I think I’m more impressed that he attempted to play professional ball.” Banks also attended a practice camp with the Seattle Seahawks, whose head coach was Pete Carroll, the man who offered Banks a scholarship to the University of Southern California several years earlier.

Banks then decided to sign with a team in the United Football League (UFL), the Los Angeles Locomotives, where he played in two games and recorded one tackle before the UFL suspended its season in October of 2012. Banks then signed with the Atlanta Falcons on April 3rd, 2013, where he competed for the spot of inside linebacker on the team. He played in his first game on August 8th, 2013, against the Cincinnati Bengals where he recorded two tackles. Junior Jordan Donley says, “I think it’s great that he was able to come back from that so well and still get a chance to play in the NFL.” Banks was cut from the Falcons on August 30th, 2013, when the roster was cut from 75 players to 53. He is now a free agent and could be picked up by any team in the league.

On April 12th, 2013, the Long Beach Unified School District stated that is was suing Wanetta Gibson for two million dollars to compensate the one and a half million given to Gibson, attorney fees, and punitive damages. On June 14th, 2013, the school district won 2.6 million dollars from Gibson.

Brian Banks was convicted for a crime that he did not commit, but he proved his innocence in a very impressive way. This event changed his life forever, but despite the trauma caused by this incident, Banks was able to recover and continue his football career. He is now a free agent, practicing and waiting for a team to pick him up.

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