Five Indiana Pacers and seven Detroit Pistons fans were charged yesterday in connection with the brawl at Auburn Hills, Mich., that erupted in the stands during the last seconds of a Nov. 19 game between the Pacers and Pistons.
The Pacers' Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison, Anthony Johnson and five Pistons fans are charged with single counts of assault and battery. Three-time all-star Jermaine O'Neal faces two counts. One fan also faces a felony assault charge for throwing a chair into the crowd, striking several people, including a police officer.
Two additional spectators were charged with violating a local ordinance prohibiting entering the court at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the Pistons' home arena. "Every effort was . . . made to discern the identity of all the major suspects or individuals who were involved in any sort of fisticuffs," said Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca at an afternoon news conference yesterday in Pontiac, Mich. "We feel we were very judicious in our charging decisions and attempted to decipher acts of retaliation from self-defense."
Misdemeanor assault and battery could bring a three-month jail sentence and a $500 fine, authorities said. The felonious assault charge for throwing the chair is punishable by up to four years in prison. Two of the fans have prior criminal convictions, Gorcyca said.
Everyone charged is responsible for turning themselves in to the police.
The melee is considered the country's largest and most violent clash between professional athletes and fans. The investigation lasted nearly three weeks and involved 10 video feeds, "countless hours of staff time" and over 1,000 pages of witness statements and police reports, Gorcyca said.
At the news conference, Gorcyca placed the blame for the start of the riot on John Green, the 39-year-old fan from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., who police say threw the cup that struck Artest in the face and prompted the Pacers forward to run into the stands. Green also was seen on videotape, according to authorities, striking Artest when his back was turned.
"[John Green] probably is the one who is most culpable," said Gorcyca, who once lived next door to Green.
Green's attorney, Shawn Patrick Smith, disputed Gorcyca's assertion.
"If you look at the video, what Green is trying to do is get Artest off the kid he jumped," Smith said. "Artest passed John on his way to the kid and he didn't pick a fight. It was only after Artest jumped that little guy that he went over to help."
Reached by phone following the news conference, Green called the charges ludicrous.
"I think it's selective prosecution," Green said. "They are not going to go after the big NBA million-dollar players so they are going after the little guy. Me. They need to treat everybody equally."
Green and the fan accused of throwing the chair, Bryant Jackson, 35, of Mundy Township, Mich., have prior convictions, said Gorcyca. According to a Michigan Department of Corrections online database, Green was charged in 1988 with assault with intent to do great bodily harm, as well as an attempt to escape from custody. In 1986, he was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon and check fraud, according to the database.
Most of the accused are unlikely to see any jail time, according to Robert D. Sheehan, a lawyer based in Rochester Hills, Mich. "They should probably get probation," Sheehan said. "Which means counseling, and they will have to pay fines and costs."