PONTIAC, Mich. – Five Indiana Pacers (search) players and seven Detroit Pistons fans were charged Wednesday in one of the worst brawls in U.S. sports history — the melee last month that broke out on the basketball court and spread to the stands.
NBA players Ron Artest (search), Stephen Jackson, David Harrison and Anthony Johnson were all charged with one count of assault and battery, a misdemeanor that could bring three months in jail and a $500 fine. Three-time All-Star Jermaine O'Neal (search) was charged with two counts of the same offense.
Five of the fans were charged with the same offenses. One of them, Bryant Jackson, 35, was also charged with felony assault for allegedly hurling a chair. That crime is punishable by up to four years in prison, but he could get even more time because he has prior criminal convictions.
The other fans and players would not likely face jail time if they have clean records.
"Typically someone who has no prior record and due to the fact there were no extenuating injuries, they likely would face probations, fines and costs," said prosecutor David Gorcyca.
Now that arrest warrants have been issued, the prosecutor said the players and fans charged are required to turn themselves in. He said some of the accused or their attorneys contacted his office earlier and said they would do so.
The fight erupted Nov. 19 during a game against the Detroit Pistons after an on-court dispute over a foul. A fan tossed a drink at Artest, who then charged into the stands and began beating the man he thought had done it.
Among the fans charged was 39-year-old John Green, the man accused of throwing the cup.
"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," said Gorcyca, who relied in part on video footage of the brawl in bringing charges.
The fans charged also included Detroit Pistons star Ben Wallace's brother, David, of Selma, Ala., who was in town to watch the game, and two others who allegedly threw cups in players' faces. Two others were charged with violating a local ordinance that prohibits fans from entering the court.
After Artest climbed into the stands, Jackson joined him and threw punches at fans, who punched back. O'Neal hit a fan who ran onto the court. Gorcyca said there was no evidence that any Pistons players threw punches during the melee.
Jackson's lawyer, James Burdick, said the basketball player was defending himself. "The problem is this: a few crazed drunken fans who created a chaotic situation," Burdick said. "Steve responded in a way that he thought was necessary to protect himself and protect his friends."
Harrison's attorney, Walter Piszczatowski, said the athlete was acting as a "peacekeeper."
"He was trying to make sure everybody was safe," he said.
Pacers chief executive Donnie Walsh said the team could not comment. "In the meantime, we will continue to support our players in every possible way for the duration of these proceedings and afterward," he said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has suspended Artest for the rest of the season, Jackson for 30 games and O'Neal for 25. Six other players — including four members of the Pistons — received shorter suspensions.
The players' union is appealing the suspensions of Artest, Jackson and O'Neal, and a grievance hearing is scheduled for Thursday in New York.
Gorcyca said investigators are trying to identify all the fans who entered the court during the fight or dumped drinks and debris on players. More people could be charged, he said.