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5 Players, 7 Fans Charged in Brawl

Times Staff Writer

Five Indiana Pacer players and seven Detroit Piston fans were charged Wednesday for their part in the Nov. 19 brawl in the Palace of Auburn Hills, Mich.

Indiana’s Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson each were charged with one count of assault and battery, a misdemeanor that could bring three months in jail and a $500 fine. Jermaine O’Neal was charged with two counts of assault and battery.

Five of the fans were also each charged with one count of assault and battery. One of them, Bryant Jackson, 35, was additionally charged with felony assault, punishable by up to four years in prison, for allegedly hurling a chair. Two other fans were charged for coming onto the court, a violation of a local ordinance.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca announced the charges at a news conference in Pontiac, Mich. He said the players and fans probably would face probation and fines if convicted.

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Among the fans charged was John Green, the man accused of throwing a cup of ice at Artest, who then charged into the stands. Also charged was Piston center Ben Wallace’s brother David, who was visiting from Selma, Ala.

“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,” Gorcyca said.

The other two fans charged with assault and battery were John Ackerman and William Paulson. Both are accused of throwing drinks at players.

All the players except Harrison were disciplined by the NBA. Wallace and Johnson have served their suspensions and rejoined their teams. Artest has been suspended for the rest of the season, Jackson for 25 games and O’Neal for 20.

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The NBA Players Assn. has appealed on behalf of the suspended players. The case is to go before an arbitrator today in New York, who will rule whether Commissioner David Stern has jurisdiction to hear an appeal.

However, if the arbitrator doesn’t find for the NBA, the league already has announced it will pursue the matter in federal court.

Russ Granik, NBA deputy commissioner, issued a terse statement Wednesday, noting, “We have cooperated fully with the Auburn Hills Police and Oakland County Prosecutors Office investigations. We do not contemplate any additional player discipline and will not be commenting further at this time.”

Likewise, the Pacers had no comment. Team President Donnie Walsh said in a prepared statement: “This is a legal matter and we are unable to comment. The players charged, who have retained individual legal counsel, will also refrain from comment. We also will not comment until the legal matters are fully resolved.”

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Some of the players’ attorneys did comment.

James Burdick said Jackson “responded in a way that he thought was necessary to protect himself and protect his friends” after “a few crazed drunken fans who created a chaotic situation.”

Walter Piszczatowski said Harrison, his client, acted as a “peacekeeper ... trying to make sure everybody was safe.”

Gorcyca said investigators were trying to identify all the fans who went onto the court during the fight or threw drinks and debris at players. More people could be charged, he said.

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The Pistons lost four of the six games they played without Wallace, then won two of three after he returned.

The Pacers surprised everyone by winning three of their first four games without Artest, O’Neal and Jackson, with three more players, Reggie Miller, Jeff Foster and Jonathan Bender, out too. However, they have lost their last five games.

“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.

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“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.”

Said Foster: “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.”

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Times staff writer Chris Foster and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

In a legal bind

Those charged for their roles in a brawl during a game between Indiana and Detroit at Auburn Hills, Mich.:

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PLAYERS

* Jermaine O’Neal**

* Ron Artest*

* David Harrison*

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* Stephen Jackson*

* Anthony Johnson*

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FANS

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* Bryant Jackson* and one count of felony assault

* John Ackerman*

* John Green**

* William Paulson*

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* David Wallace*

*-denotes number of charges of misdemeanor assault and battery.

Notes -- Two unnamed fans also charged for walking onto the court. The maximum penalty for misdemeanor assault and battery is three months in jail or $500 fine per count. Felonious assault carries a penalty of four years in jail.

Source: Times wire services

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