Orange County prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges Thursday against Dennis Rodman, accusing the former basketball star of disturbing the peace and breaking several municipal codes during a raucous birthday bash he held three weeks ago at his Balboa Peninsula home.
The move marks the first time prosecutors have sought criminal charges against Rodman despite nearly two years of complaints from residents about loud parties and other disruptions at his pink beach compound, known as Club 4809.
The district attorney's office has repeatedly rejected calls from Newport Beach police to charge Rodman in connection with previous parties, saying there has been insufficient evidence to successfully pursue the matters in court. But officials said the latest party--which featured three bands and Rodman's arrival in a clamorous helicopter--showed that a crime occurred.
If convicted, Rodman could face 18 months in jail and $3,000 in fines. The charges carry an added risk for him, because he is on probation for misdemeanor convictions for drunk driving and driving without his license. The probation violation could add a year in jail time and $2,000 in fines if he is convicted, according to prosecutors.
The prospect of incarceration elicited an angry response from Rodman's lawyer, who said officials were singling his client out for abuse and treating him differently from any other resident who has held a party or wedding along the postcard-perfect beach.
"This is the first time I can remember that the district attorney filed three misdemeanor charges and then held a press conference," said attorney Paul S. Meyer. "This is very, very unusual, and we believe it's unreasonable."
Prosecutors deny that they are picking on Rodman because he is a controversial celebrity.
"This is by no means a witch hunt," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Fell. "Mr. Rodman is being treated no differently than anyone else. He's been shown numerous courtesies by the Newport Beach Police Department, and they've shown great restraint. This time, however, he's really left us no choice."
The charges are the latest development in a long-running feud involving the former Chicago Bulls player, Newport Beach officials and those neighbors who say they are sick of loud parties at his Seashore Drive home. The charges also come on the heels of a civil suit the city filed against Rodman last week, demanding an end to live entertainment and dancing at a restaurant he partly owns, Josh Slocum's.
The criminal charges stem from a May 12 party Rodman held in the daytime on the beach around his home to celebrate his 40th birthday. The gathering attracted about 300 people, and the host made his entrance in a helicopter that landed on the beach.
Prosecutors accuse Rodman of disturbing the peace by allowing three bands to use an amplifier for their music. They also accuse him of setting up an amplification system without a permit and of unlawfully operating a sound system on a public beach.
Fell said Newport Beach police warned Rodman the day before the party that he faced criminal charges if he went ahead with the plan. Fell said Rodman was warned twice more on the day of the party.
Rodman's lawyer, however, said the police warnings weren't an issue in the matter.
"It seems to me that if an individual's having a birthday party, [he has] the right to have a gathering of friends at their location," Meyer said. "This wasn't a loud and unreasonable party."
Missing from Thursday's list of charges was any mention of the helicopter. Some residents and officials say the craft violated the law by landing on the beach. Fell, however, said that aspect of the case wasn't as solid as the noise violations.
"I didn't feel comfortable enough with any of the evidence we had to charge him in relation to the helicopter," he said.