Nude stop at drive-thru earns coach suspension
September 8, 2006
Joe Cullen coaches the defensive linemen for the Lions.
A burger joint drive-thru worker called police after Lions assistant coach Joe Cullen allegedly pulled his SUV up to the window and placed an order in the nude.
The worker, who took down Cullen's license plate number, told Dearborn officers after the late-night incident on Aug. 24 that "the suspect did nothing obscene, other than being naked at the drive-thru."
Cullen, a first-year defensive line coach, was arrested and charged with indecent and obscene conduct in the incident. On Sept. 1, a little more than a week later, he was arrested again and charged with drunken driving, also in Dearborn.
On Thursday, the Lions suspended Cullen for Sunday's season opener against the Seattle Seahawks, the Free Press has learned. Cullen, however, is expected to continue to coach the defensive line during practices.
Police reports obtained by the Free Press and an interview with a Wendy's shift manager shed light on the unusual events that have turned an obscure 38-year-old assistant football coach into the talk of the Detroit sports scene. But many questions remain unanswered, such as why Cullen was driving nude, does he have a drinking problem, will he face additional discipline by the team or the NFL, how is he receiving unspecified treatment while still doing a high-stress job, and did the team do a thorough background check.
Cullen has not told his side of the story. He declined comment after Wednesday's Lions practice, when the Free Press first broke the story, and was unavailable after Thursday's.
The Wendy's manager, Jethro Lett, said he was working the second drive-thru window on Michigan Avenue near Telegraph when he heard startling news from the first window, where customers pay for their food.
"The cashier alerted me," said Lett, 48. " 'A guy coming to your window is naked!' "
Lett, whose job was to deliver food to drivers from the second window, said, "I was trying to be professional." But the man in the blue SUV was clearly in the raw as he pulled up.
Because it was late -- court records said the incident happened at about 11:15 p.m. -- Lett asked the man to pull over to wait for his food to cook. He recalled the order as a single combo: burger, fries and a drink.
Five minutes later, Lett brought the order out to the parked SUV. "He didn't say a word," Lett said. "I said, 'Here you go with your food, sir.' "
Cullen, who was fired from the University of Mississippi in March 2005 after being arrested for public drunkenness in a restaurant, has sought help and is getting "treatment," Lions officials said. He apologized in a statement Wednesday.
The Lions, at the same time, issued a statement calling both of Cullen's arrests alcohol related. Court records said his blood-alcohol content in the second arrest was 0.12, above the Michigan legal limit of 0.08.
But the police reports did not mention anything about alcohol or Cullen being drunk when he was arrested while nude.
Lett is a veteran Wendy's employee who lives in Detroit and normally works in the city. He said he was frustrated with the response of Dearborn police, whom he didn't think were taking his complaint seriously.
"All they kept saying is, 'Did he say anything, do anything?' " Lett recalled. "I said, 'He don't have to say anything, he's butt naked!' "
Police radioed a description of a blue SUV and its license plate number. Other officers soon reported seeing a blue Ford Explorer on Michigan Avenue with a shirtless driver, and pulled it over.
An officer asked for identification and Cullen, the only person in the vehicle, produced it, a police report said. "Cullen was then directed to put on the clothing that was in the vehicle with him and he did so," the report said.
He was arrested and taken to the police station, where a computer check did not find any outstanding warrants for his arrest. Police issued him a ticket for indecent and obscene conduct; by 12:10 a.m., Cullen had paid a $100 bond and was released. His Explorer was impounded and someone retrieved it at 7:30 a.m.
The 10-page report on that arrest does not mention why Cullen was nude. But Lett said he thought the man he saw had been drinking, because his head was nodding.
Lett said the whole experience was a bit traumatic, especially since he had only recently begun working outside Detroit.
"They brought me all the way out to Dearborn, and this is where the freak show's at," he said. "You live long enough, you see enough."
In the Sept. 1 incident, Dearborn police responded to a man's call around midnight that a driver in a blue Explorer was traveling at a high speed with no headlights on.
Officers found an Explorer matching the description leaving a Michigan Avenue gas station with no headlights on. They pulled the vehicle over and found Cullen driving, reports said. An officer smelled alcohol, reports said, and Cullen admitted that he had had four beers.
Cullen passed a request to count his ABCs out loud, the report said, but failed other sobriety tests, including reciting the alphabet from C to W. Cullen said he couldn't do it, a report said. He also failed counting backward and a walking test, police said.
At the police station, a breath test determined his blood-alcohol content was .12, reports said, and he was ticketed for drunken driving.
The man who initially called police later told them he saw Cullen driving westbound on Michigan at an estimated 60 m.p.h. and then roll through a stop sign at Oakwood. He saw the driver pull into a gas station and described him as a white male with a blue shirt and flip-flops.
Police again impounded Cullen's Explorer and he spent the night in jail. At 8:30 a.m., after paying a $200 bond, he was released, reports said.
He is to appear next week in 19th District Court in Dearborn on both charges.