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

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.