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Ponson Remains Jailed

Attorney: Alcohol-Fueled Fight Left 4 Injured, 3 in Custody

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004; Page D05

The beachside altercation that has kept Baltimore Orioles pitcher Sidney Ponson locked up in an Aruban jail since Christmas Day grew out of an alcohol-fueled confrontation that left four people injured and three people, including Ponson, in police custody, Ponson's attorney said yesterday .

Attorney Chris Lejuez acknowledged Ponson's part in the fight, but declined an opportunity to proclaim his client's innocence of the charges of assault and fighting in a public place.

"If you are in a fight, it is very hard to be innocent," says attorney for Sidney Ponson, jailed past 5 nights. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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"If you are in a fight, it is very hard to be innocent," Lejuez said. "The only way to be innocent in a fight is to avoid it."

Ponson, 28, spent a fifth night in jail last night at a police station in the town of San Nicholas, and could remain there through the weekend as the public prosecutor finishes investigating Saturday's altercation. Ponson remains in police custody because Aruba's legal system has no bail option.

Although it remains unclear when Ponson will be released -- he could be transferred to a prison early next week if the prosecutor finds there is cause to keep him detained, and a judge agrees -- Lejuez said he believes Ponson will be available for spring training on time in mid-February.

"I'm very confident he will be able to get back in time for his preparations for spring training," Lejuez said. Asked about the possibility of prison time, he said, "I'm hopeful we don't get to that point."

The Orioles have remained mostly silent on Ponson's case, and majority owner Peter Angelos said yesterday that he will withhold judgment until all the facts are out.

"I would be the last person to prejudge him," said Angelos. "There was an allegation made, but it isn't fair to just automatically assume he was in the wrong. [Someone else] could have been the aggressor."

According to police reports, Ponson was confronted on the beach Saturday by a group of people who asserted he had harassed them by recklessly operating his personal watercraft. In the ensuing altercation, Ponson allegedly struck a man in the face, then fled the scene. The alleged victim, who turned out to be a local judge named W. Noordhuizen, was hospitalized, and Ponson was later taken into police custody.

Messages left at Noordhuizen's office were not returned yesterday, and a receptionist said he was on vacation.

Lejuez acknowledged alcohol was involved in the altercation, adding, "It was Christmas Day. People were drinking and having a good time. So people were under the influence of alcohol, but not only Sidney."

According to Mary Ann Croes, a spokesperson in the public prosecutor's office, "multiple" people were injured in the fight and three were detained. However, she declined to name the other people who were detained and would not divulge the condition of those injured.

Lejuez said that four people were treated for injuries. "Mostly bruises, some swelling, a black eye," he said.

According to Lejuez, the incident began when Ponson, who was riding his Jet Ski in the waters off Boca Catalina, was beckoned to the beach by a group of two or three people.

"The people on the beach apparently told him, 'Come here,' " Lejuez said. "They invited him to discuss the matter. So he went to the beach to discuss the matter. He did not go to the beach to fight. But once he was on the beach, the fight started. . . . One of them tried to hit him, and that's when the fight started."

Once the fight began, two people described by Lejuez as friends of Ponson's came to his defense. Lejuez said he has seen their statements to police, and they are "very similar" to Ponson's statement.

According to Croes, three outcomes could result from the prosecutor's investigation: If there is not enough evidence of his guilt, Ponson could be set free. If there is evidence of guilt, he can be released while he awaits a trial. Or a judge could fine him and/or sentence him to community service.

Ponson is a highly prominent figure in his home country, holding the distinction of being one of only three Arubans to play in the major leagues, and he was decorated as a Knight in the Order of the Dutch Royal House in 2003. However, Croes said Ponson's celebrity status will not affect his legal status.

"We treat every case equally," Croes said. "If the person involved is popular or not, it is not important to us. We do what we always do, which is to investigate fully all the facts of the case and decide how to proceed."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company