FIVE Indiana Pacers and seven fans were charged on Wednesday in the melee that broke out at the end of a nationally televised game against the Detroit Pistons last month, one of the worst brawls in US sports history.
Players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson were charged with one count of assault and battery. Jermaine O’Neal, a three-time NBA All-Star, was charged with two counts of assault and battery.
Five fans were charged with misdemeanour assault and battery, including Pistons star Ben Wallace’s brother, David. Bryant Jackson also was charged with felony assault for throwing a chair into the fray, Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca said.
The misdemeanour carries up to three months in jail and a fine of up to US$500, and the felony carries up to four years in prison, although Jackson could face more time because he has a prior criminal record, Gorcyca said.
Gorcyca singled out spectator John Green, who faces two assault counts and, the prosecutor said, “single-handedly incited this whole interaction between the fans and players and probably is the one that’s most culpable”. Green, who also has a prior criminal record, is accused of throwing a cup at Artest, splashing him and sparking the brawl.
Green’s lawyer, Shawn Smith, called the charges against his client “outrageous and the worst kind of politics.
“He’s setting an example,” Smith said of Gorcyca. “And I’m all for setting an example, but tell him to leave the game, don’t prosecute him.”
John Ackerman and William Paulson, each facing an assault charge, also were accused of throwing a cup or liquid in players’ faces. (Paulson’s last name is listed as Paulson and Pawlson on the arrest warrant.)
In addition, two men were charged for walking onto the court at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Police said other fans could be charged, too.
Palace president Tom Wilson said Wednesday that all seven fans charged in the incident have been banned from the arena.
“We aren’t saying that it is permanent, although it might be,” he said. “It’s definitely through the end of the season, and quite possibly beyond that.”
Gorcyca said the players and fans without prior convictions would probably face probation and fines if found guilty.
Pacers chief executive Donnie Walsh said the team would not comment until the case is resolved. “In the meantime, we will continue to support our players in every possible way,” he said.
James W Burdick, Stephen Jackson’s lawyer, said it was “unfair and inappropriate” to charge his client.
“The problem is this: a few crazed drunken fans who created a chaotic situation,” Burdick said. “Steve responded in a way that he thought was necessary to protect himself and protect his friends.”
Walter Piszczatowski, Harrison’s lawyer, said: “David was acting as the peacekeeper throughout that evening. He was trying to make sure everybody was safe.”
With less than a minute left in the Pacers-Pistons game Nov 19, Artest fouled Ben Wallace from behind on a drive to the basket. Wallace responded with a hard, two-handed shove to Artest.
That sparked an initial skirmish, and Artest retreated to the scorer’s table while the referees restored calm. But then Artest was hit by a cup, and he stormed into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.
Jackson joined Artest and threw punches at fans, who punched back.
O’Neal and Artest also hit fans who later came onto the court.
NBA commissioner David Stern suspended Artest for the rest of the season.
Jackson was banned for 30 games, O’Neal for 25, and other players received shorter suspensions. The players’ union is appealing the longer suspensions, and a grievance hearing is scheduled for Thursday in New York.
Gorcyca said the players and fans are required to surrender to authorities because arrest warrants were issued. He said some of the accused or their attorneys contacted his office about doing so.
Bryant Jackson appeared briefly in court on Wednesday afternoon to sign papers related to the charges. He did not comment to reporters. Some of the players said the case has become a distraction for the Pacers.
“Sitting on the phone with lawyers for an hour-and-a-half or two hours basically every other day, that kind of gets frustrating,” Johnson said.
“You’ve got to try to eliminate as much as possible, but it is definitely there and it is definitely a focus each and every day.
“We kind of lost our heads a little bit collectively as a unit. It’s unfortunate because it’s been played over and over and over again, and we’re shown in a bad light. … If we could turn back the hands of time I’m pretty sure we would handle it differently.”