- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

PONTIAC, Mich. — Five Indiana Pacers players and seven Detroit Pistons fans were charged yesterday in one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history — the melee last month that broke out on the basketball court and spread to the stands.

NBA players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson all were charged with one count of assault and battery, a misdemeanor that could bring three months in jail and a $500 fine. Three-time All-Star Jermaine O’Neal was charged with two counts of the same offense.

Five of the fans were charged with the same offenses. One of them, Bryant Jackson, 35, also was charged with felony assault for reportedly hurling a chair. That crime is punishable by up to four years in prison, but he could get even more time because he has prior criminal convictions.

Fan John Green, 39, who is accused of throwing a cup at Artest, splashing him and sparking the brawl, also has a prior criminal record. The other fans and players likely would not face jail time if they have clean records.

“Typically, someone who has no prior criminal record and due to the fact there were no extenuating injuries, [they likely would face] probations, fines and costs,” Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca said.

Now that arrest warrants have been issued, the prosecutor said the players and fans charged are required to turn themselves in. He said some of the accused or their attorneys have contacted his office earlier and said they would do so.

Bryant Jackson, who appeared briefly in court yesterday afternoon, told a judge he has convictions for carrying a concealed weapon and domestic violence. Asked for comment afterward, he raised his fist and said “Pistons.”

The fight erupted Nov. 19 during an Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons game after an on-court dispute over a foul. A fan tossed a drink at Artest, who then charged into the stands and began beating a man he mistakenly thought had done it.

“John Green … in my mind single-handedly incited this whole interaction between the fans and players and probably is the one that’s most culpable,” said Mr. Gorcyca, who relied in part on video footage of the brawl in bringing charges.

Green’s lawyer, Shawn Smith, called the charges against his client “outrageous and the worst kind of politics” and said the prosecutor was caving to the big business of basketball by “picking on the little guy.”

“He’s setting an example,” Mr. Smith said of Mr. Gorcyca. “And I’m all for setting an example, but tell him to leave the game, don’t prosecute him.”

The fans charged included the brother of Detroit Pistons star Ben Wallace, David, of Selma, Ala., who was in town to watch the game, and two others who reportedly threw cups in players’ faces. Two others were charged with violating a local ordinance that prohibits fans from entering the court.

Two of the fans involved, Green and Charlie Haddad, who was charged with entering the court, have been banned from the Palace, the home arena of the Pistons. Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek said letters would go out today to the other four fans charged with assault informing them they, too, are no longer allowed at the arena.

After Artest climbed into the stands, Stephen Jackson joined him and threw punches at fans, who punched back. O’Neal hit a fan who ran onto the court. Mr. Gorcyca said there was no evidence that any Pistons players threw punches during the melee.

Stephen Jackson’s lawyer, James Burdick, said the basketball player was defending himself.

“The problem is this: a few crazed drunken fans who created a chaotic situation,” Mr. Burdick said. “Steve responded in a way that he thought was necessary to protect himself and protect his friends.”

Harrison’s attorney, Walter Piszczatowski, said the athlete was acting as a “peacekeeper.”

“He was trying to make sure everybody was safe,” he said.

Pacers chief executive Donnie Walsh said the team could not comment.

“In the meantime, we will continue to support our players in every possible way for the duration of these proceedings and afterward,” he said.

NBA Commissioner David Stern has suspended Artest for the rest of the season, Jackson for 30 games and O’Neal for 25. Six other players — including four members of the Pistons — received shorter suspensions.

The NBA had no comment other than to say it cooperated in the investigation and did not plan further discipline.

The players union is appealing the suspensions of Artest, Stephen Jackson and O’Neal, and a grievance hearing is scheduled for today in New York.

Mr. Gorcyca said investigators are trying to identify all the fans who entered the court during the fight or dumped drinks and debris on players. More people could be charged, he said.

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