Johnson accuses Bell in luggage theft; Bell calls situation misunderstanding
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit running back Rudi Johnson said Wednesday that the player who was waived to make room for him on the Lions' roster -- Tatum Bell -- took his luggage from team headquarters.
"All this happened when he got released," Johnson said. "He came in to get some stuff out of his locker and that's when he scooped up the bags."
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After being cut by the Cincinnati Bengals, Johnson came to Detroit to work out for the team and meet with Lions president Matt Millen on Monday. During the meeting, which ended with Johnson agreeing to a free-agent contract, the two Gucci bags that he had received as a Pro Bowl gift were taken from inside the team's headquarters.
Johnson met with the Detroit media for the first time Tuesday, and talked about Bell in a positive manner -- saying they had discussed the Lions and that Bell, also a running back, had given him advice on the team and the city.
However, shortly after Johnson praised Bell, team security director Ricky Sandoval showed him footage from the team's surveillance system.
"Ricky showed me the tape Tuesday afternoon," Johnson said. "What makes this crazy is that I've talked to him after games, and I talked to him a couple hours prior to this -- I guess it was before he found out he was going to be released."
Johnson said a woman returned the bags to the practice facility Tuesday evening, but that the contents were gone.
"I got the bags back -- empty," he said. "So he's got a bunch of my underclothes. What he's going to do with that, I don't know. He's got some socks and boxers."
Johnson said he was also still missing about $200 in cash along with his ID and credit cards, but said that he did not plan to involve the authorities.
"I don't need the police for this," he said. "I got my bags back and the credit cards are canceled."
Bell, however, claimed the situation was a misunderstanding. Bell told the Detroit Free Press that defensive end Victor DeGrate, whom the Lions released Saturday, had asked Bell to pick up his bags for him. Bell said he picked up the bags, not realizing they weren't DeGrate's.
"I wasn't thinking or nothing," Bell told the newspaper. "I just grabbed the backpack and grabbed the other bag. They weren't in nobody's locker or nothing like that. They were just sitting there by the computer area right there. I grabbed them and put them in the car.
"They said they got me on film taking the bags. I said, 'If you look on film, I wasn't in no hurry or nothing.' I was just going about my day," he said.
Bell said he delivered the bags to a female friend of DeGrate's without opening them. Bell told the Free Press that he did not have anything of Johnson's and wanted to clear his name.
"I ain't no thief," Bell told the Free Press. "I ain't never been one, and I ain't never going to be one."
Johnson and Bell have spoken about the incident.
"I tried to talk to Rudi yesterday, but he was pretty upset, so I let it go," Bell told the newspaper. "I come to find out the bags weren't whose I thought they was. It was just an honest mistake."
Johnson told the Free Press that he doesn't believe Bell's version of events.
"I didn't want to talk to him, but I let him know where I stand," he said. "He knows how I feel about it, and it isn't anything positive."
Lions coach Rod Marinelli declined to comment on the issue after Wednesday's practice, but the team issued a short, uncredited statement before Johnson confirmed the reports that had started on the Internet Tuesday night.
"We are aware of the media reports regarding former player Tatum Bell," the statement said. "Our sole focus continues to be on our regular season opener in Atlanta. We will not have any further comment on the media reports involving Tatum Bell."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.