Two fans accuse Artest, others of assault, battery

Updated: November 23, 2004, 9:39 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Two fans sued the Indiana Pacers and players Ron Artest, Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal on Tuesday, contending they were injured in the brawl at the end of the Pistons-Pacers game.

Lawyers for John Ackerman and William Paulson filed suits in Oakland County Circuit Court in Pontiac, seeking damages in excess of $25,000 each.

Ackerman, a 67-year-old retired auto worker, says he was hit by O'Neal and then by a chair that a fan hurled into the crowd. His suit also names Palace Sports & Entertainment Inc., which operates the Pistons' arena.

"He was knocked unconscious by the chair," said Todd Weglarz, who along with lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, represents the men. "The next thing he recalls is being helped into a wheelchair."

Police released a copy of a videotape Tuesday showing a man who investigators believe threw the chair, and they asked the public to help identify him.

Fieger, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is known for representing high-profile clients such as assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian.

Paulson, 26, said he was punched by Jackson and assaulted by Artest. Weglarz said Paulson's family has had Pistons season tickets for about 25 years.

Paulson, who works in real estate, and Ackerman have been diagnosed with concussions from the brawl, Weglarz said.

The NBA suspended Artest for the season, Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 25.

Pistons spokesman Matt Dobek said the team and The Palace were aware of the lawsuits but declined comment. The Pacers did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

Oakland County prosecutor David Gorcyca has said the only possible felony charge in the brawl could be against the chair-thrower. He said other charges most likely would be for misdemeanor assault and battery.

Auburn Hills police Lt. James Manning said the investigation could take two to three weeks. Investigators are reviewing videotapes and interviewing witnesses. Artest and other Pacers had not been interviewed, Manning said.

Another fan, John Green, has been identified as the one who threw a cup that hit Artest before the Indiana forward charged into the stands. Gorcyca recognized Green -- a former neighbor -- after repeatedly watching footage of the brawl.

Once Artest was in the stands, Green grabbed him from behind and sucker-punched him, the prosecutor said.

Green, a 39-year-old contractor, told reporters Monday that it may have looked like he threw the cup, but he didn't.

"I wish the whole thing didn't happen," he said. "It was awful, it was ugly."

Green's attorney, Shawn Smith, said his client became involved in the brawl only when he saw Artest hitting a smaller man. Green also said Artest kicked him in the shin "a couple of times."

"We have no comment on who threw the cup, it's irrelevant," Smith said. He said fans shouldn't throw things, "but is it a criminal offense? I don't think so."

During an appearance Tuesday on ABC's "Good Morning America,'' Green described himself as a respected businessman with a wife and two children. He said he was not drinking Friday night and that Artest was "being a thug.''

"I don't go around breaking the law," Green said. "If they have found that I broke the law, I'll pay the price."

Green also appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live" with his attorney, Shawn Patrick Smith, on Tuesday night. Both avoided answering King's question about whether Green threw the cup while replays were being shown during the interview.

Gorcyca said Green was on probation for his third offense of driving under the influence. Green's record also includes convictions for carrying a concealed weapon and check fraud, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections' database.

Pistons chief executive Tom Wilson said Green is a season-ticket holder and will be banned from The Palace.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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