Two Fans Sue Pacers Over Brawl
Artest Apologizes, But Calls Season-Long Ejection Unfair
POSTED: 11:24 am EST November 22, 2004
UPDATED: 11:59 pm EST November 22, 2004
INDIANAPOLIS -- Two fans filed suit against Indiana Pacers players Monday after they claim they were attacked during the brawl at The Palace on Friday night.
Bill Paulson said he was punched in the head and neck when Pacers' player Stephen Jackson followed Ron Artest into the stands.
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"If you'll notice, I'm trying to get away and he's still hurting me and, in fact, I didn't realize until after I saw the replay that he's still coming after me. He's being held back by other people," said Paulson.
The fight started when Artest was struck by a cup thrown from the stands. Artest charged into the stands, throwing punches as he climbed over seats.
Paulson said Artest started punching his friend. "When he was held down by his arm, Ron Artest had his fist cocked, saying, 'Did you throw it? Did you throw it?'" Paulson said.
Videotape of the brawl apparently shows Paulson reacting by throwing his beer at Artest. That's when Jackson appears to go after Paulson, WDIV-TV in Detroit reported.
Paulson's attorney, Todd Weglarz, said the players' actions were wrong.
"Legally, you cannot take the law into your own hands after you had a beer dumped on you ... start assaulting people who you think hit you until you found the right one," Weglarz said.
Weglarz is also representing John Ackerman, 67, who said he was hit by a chair thrown from the stands and punched in the head by Pacers' player Jermaine O'Neal. Ackerman is filing suit against the Indiana Pacers and three of the team's players.
"What happened to me should never happen to anybody," Ackerman said.
As the Pacers were being escorted off the court, Ackerman said he was hit in the head. He told WDIV-TV in Detroit that he did not realize what had happened until he saw videotape of the fight.
VIDEO: Videotaped Punch Leads To Lawsuit | Man Allegedly Hit By Chair, Pacers' Punch
"I was running through that series of videos and I watched the chair come down and I wondered why I had a real sore spot," Ackerman said.
Weglarz said Ackerman was also hit in the head by O'Neal. "People who were sitting around him and who were with him during the game all said that he was sucker-punched and was attacked by Mr. Jermaine O'Neal," Weglarz said.
Ackerman said he was not a part of the fight and did not throw anything at the players.
According to WDIV-TV, the Indiana Pacers and three of its players -- Artest, O'Neal and Jackson -- are named as defendants in the lawsuits. The Palace basketball arena may be included in the lawsuit at a later date, according to the station's reports. It is unclear at this point what, if any, damages are being sought.
Pacers Hope To Bounce Back From Suspensions
Indiana Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said the three suspensions stemming from Friday's brawl at the end of a game against the Detroit Pistons are a very, very tough penalty and a very tough pill to swallow.
Carlisle hopes that a closer look at the players as people and their community involvement would result in the suspensions' being reduced.
Team CEO Donnie Walsh said the brawl was a low point in sports, but that the Pacers intend to compete and win at a high level. He apologized for the team during a Monday afternoon news conference.
Walsh said he's not sure whether the Pacers can appeal NBA Commissioner David Stern's ruling. But Larry Bird, Pacers president of basketball operations, said the team would do what it could to get Ron Artest back in uniform as quickly as possible. Bird said the team fully supports Artest, calling him one of the top 10 players in the NBA.
Stern suspended Artest for the rest of the season and announced suspensions Sunday for eight other players involved in the melee.
"It was unanimous, one to zero," said Stern about the decision. "It was my decision, and I decided it."
The end of Friday night's game erupted into a brawl when a fan threw a plastic bottle that hit Artest in the face as he was lying on a court side bench. The attack prompted Artest to jump into the bleachers and go after the suspected culprit.
Ron Artest (Indiana)
Stephen Jackson (Indiana)
Jermaine O'Neal (Indiana)
Ben Wallace (Detroit)
Anthony Johnson (Indiana)
Reggie Miller (Indiana)
Chauncey Billups (Detroit)
Derrick Coleman (Detroit)
Elden Campbell (Detroit)
Artest's teammate, Steven Jackson, followed into the crowd, along with several Pacers players, and started swinging at fans.
"Mr. Jackson was well into the stands and he certainly wasn't going in as a peacemaker," Stern said.
When Bird was asked how he would respond in a similar situation, he told reporters he wasn't sure. He said that while he had had beer and cups thrown at him during his NBA career as a player, he was never hit in the face with anything.
Billy Hunter, head of the NBA players' union, said there will be an appeal challenging the suspensions of all nine players.
Jackson received a 30-game suspension, while Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal will be forced to miss 25 games. Indiana will also lose Anthony Johnson for five games.
Detroit suffered its biggest loss with a six-game suspension to Ben Wallace, whose two-handed shove to Artest's face instigated the fracas.
Four other players received a one-game penalty for leaving the bench during an on-court altercation. This list includes Indiana's Reggie Miller, and Detroit's Elden Campbell, Chauncey Billups and Derrick Coleman.
"The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players," said Stern.
All together, nine players were suspended for a total of 143 games. The suspensions will be without pay.
"The actions of the players involved wildly exceeded the professionalism and self-control that should fairly be expected from NBA players."
- NBA Commissioner David Stern
Video: Stern's Statement
Indiana defeated Detroit 97-82 in the game, which was stopped late in the fourth quarter due to the fight. The Pacers led a seemingly calm game by 15 points with 45 seconds left and then things unraveled.
Artest apologized on Sunday. He said he respected Stern, but he called the suspension unfair.
"It is very important to me that people understand that I didn't mean for the situation to turn out like it did," Artest said in a statement.
But Tom Wilson, CEO of the Detroit Pistons, said the suspensions will serve a purpose.
"I think the message the league sent was so powerful to players that they'll never do that again," he said.
Although the NBA can't fine or suspend fans, Stern said fans at Friday's game share some of the blame for what happened.
Fans who threw punches, food and drinks at the players were "out of control," said the commissioner, who called the behavior disgusting.
Fans, players and other team personnel could face criminal charges for their roles in the melee.
Oakland County, Mich., Prosecutor David Gorcyca said authorities have talked by telephone with a man who admits being a fan seen on video throwing a cup. Police identified this fan as John Green, of West Bloomfield, Mich., who is reportedly a season-ticket holder at The Palace. Authorities hope to talk with Green in person once he hires an attorney.
"I think that's what escalated the whole situation. We're certainly wanting to interview that individual," Gorcyca said.
The prosecutor's office is expected to announce charges against 25 to 50 other fans who participated in the fight at The Palace. Gorcyca said anyone who threw a cup or a punch -- including players and fans -- could face criminal charges.
"The throwing of an object and striking someone constitutes an assault," Gorcyca said.