'Brawlers' won't face jail if they 'take responsibility'

Updated: September 22, 2005, 6:04 PM ET
Associated Press

DETROIT -- Community service and probation will be recommended for four Indiana Pacers players charged in a brawl with fans that broke out during a game last season, a prosecutor said Thursday, provided the players "take responsibility" by pleading guilty or no contest at pretrial hearings.

Hearings for Ron Artest, Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson are scheduled for Friday in district court. David Harrison faces an Oct. 3 hearing.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecutor John Pietrofesa said he would recommend the sentence if the players plead guilty or no contest to the charges stemming from the Nov. 19 brawl during a game against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

All the players have been charged with misdemeanor assault and battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. But Pietrofesa said community service makes more sense than jail time.

"It appears to be the appropriate resolution based on their lack of criminal backgrounds and the factors of the case," he said. "This has been a black eye for the players, the fans, for the city of Detroit, for the Pacers, their city -- and this can be a way to put it behind them."

Pietrofesa said such a sentence would allow the players "an opportunity to give back to the community." He said he would suggest that the players complete about 50 hours of community service by working with young people to teach them good sportsmanship.

A fifth player, Anthony Johnson, pleaded no contest last week to a count of misdemeanor assault and battery and is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 7. Pietrofesa said he already has recommended that Johnson perform community service and serve probation in that case, along with paying fines and court costs.

A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such for sentencing purposes.

Several fans also were charged in the brawl that started after Pistons center Ben Wallace shoved Artest following a hard foul.

After the players were separated, Artest was doused with a beverage and rushed into the stands after the man he thought had thrown the drink. Some of his teammates joined him in the stands and clashed with fans on the court.

Artest was suspended for the rest of the season, Jackson for 30 games, O'Neal for 25 and Johnson for five as a result of the melee. The league did not suspend Harrison.

O'Neal's suspension was later reduced to 15 games by an arbitrator and upheld in federal court.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press