The law comes into NBA brawl picture

Five Indiana Pacers and five fans were charged Wednesday for fighting during the melee that broke out at the end of a nationally televised game against the Detroit Pistons last month.

Players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson were charged with one count of assault and battery in one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history. Jermaine O’Neal, a three-time NBA All-Star, was charged with two counts of assault and battery.

All the fans were charged with misdemeanor 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 misdemeanor carries up to three months in jail and a fine of up to $500, and the felony carries up to four years in prison. Gorcyca, however, said the players and fans would probably face probation and fines if convicted.

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 is accused of throwing a cup at Artest, splashing him and sparking the brawl.

John Ackerman and William Paulson, each facing an assault charge, also were accused of throwing cups in players’ faces. 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.

Pacers CEO 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 refs restored calm. But then Artest was hit by the 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 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.

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

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 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.”

Jeff Foster added: “The whole thing has become such a circus. Something that no team’s ever dealt with before. Everybody’s just trying to put it behind themselves and just go on to playing basketball.”