Armstrong arrested July 7 outside nightclub
NEW ORLEANS -- Florida prosecutors filed felony charges Wednesday against New Orleans Hornets player Darrell Armstrong, who was accused of slapping away the hand of a female police officer as she ordered him off a street outside an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
Armstrong's defense lawyer, Zachary E. Stoumbos, said Armstrong would vigorously fight the charge of battery on a police officer, which carries a maximum of five years in prison. Armstrong also was formally charged with resisting arrest without violence, a misdemeanor.
"Whatever contact took place was human nature -- to respond to someone grabbing you from behind when you don't know who that is, meaning you push that hand away," Stoumbos said after being informed of the prosecutor's decision to file formal charges Wednesday afternoon. "Only then did he realize this lady officer was an officer."
Armstrong, who signed a free-agent contract with New Orleans in late July after playing nine seasons for Orlando, was arrested on July 7.
Police have alleged that officer Teresa Joyce was ordering Armstrong to get out of the street and that he was ignoring her, so she put her hand on his shoulder to guide him to the sidewalk.
Joyce has said she sprained her left middle and ring fingers, which were tangled up in Armstrong's shirt, as other officers turned Armstrong toward a police car.
Stoumbos said Armstrong, a 35-year-old father of three who well respected in the community, would not have intentionally battered a police officer, which prosecutors will have to prove.
"What reason she had coming up to grab him from behind, when he is about 25 feet from his vehicle, makes no sense to me at all," Stoumbos said, adding that celebrities are particularly sensitive to such contact because members of the public are often trying to touch them.
Police have stated that Armstrong was in the street because he was upset over not being allowed into a full taxi. Stoumbos disputed that, saying Armstrong was walking to his own car, which was across the street from the club, when he stopped to speak with some fans.
"This is friendly contact with the occupants of a taxi, which is not uncommon. He's very recognized," Stoumbos said.
Messages left at the office and on the mobile phone for the spokeswoman at the Orange County state attorney's office were not returned Wednesday evening. A police spokesman also did not return a message left on his mobile phone and at his office.
While the charges Armstrong's case could carry jail time, Stoumbos said it would be unusual for someone like Armstrong, who has not been in such trouble before, to face jail time in such a case.
Armstrong was brought to New Orleans as a backup for starter Baron Davis, who missed 32 games because of nagging back problems and minor knee surgery.
Armstrong averaged 9.4 points and 3.9 assists in a reserve role last season for the Magic. He has averaged 11.7 points, 5.1 assists and 1.6 steals for his career.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press