The law is the law

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Often when people hear the term "legal charges," they assume it's about prison cells, lives hanging in the balance and passionate courtroom speeches, like on Law and Order.

Jalen Rose knows better.

"At the end of the day, I know what a misdemeanour is," the veteran Raptors guard and native of Detroit said yesterday. "A lot of people don't."

Rose was reacting to the news that five members of the Indiana Pacers have been charged with misdemeanour assault and battery because of their participation in the infamous brawl with Detroit Pistons fans on Nov. 19 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich.

However, five fans who attended the game also were slapped with misdemeanour assault and battery charges, and one of them -- Bryant Jackson, alleged to have thrown a chair -- was charged with felonious assault, too.

The investigation is not closed. If prosecutors can identify other fans who threw things, they'll be charged, too.

And so they should be.

While Pacers wild-man Ron Artest was suspended for the rest of the season by the NBA, and eight other Pacers and Pistons were suspended, too, these legal charges, to be blunt, are fairly minor for the NBAers involved. Technically, they each could go to jail for a few months, but that's not going to happen. We're likely talking about small fines and probation.

It could be more complicated for fans of Bryant Jackson and John Green, who basically is accused of inciting the riot by throwing a beer at the combustible Artest. Prosecutors made it clear yesterday they hold Green more accountable for the mess than anyone, and that's a completely logical and welcome opinion.

"There probably are going to be civil suits, too, but that's basically the punishment I expected from the local police," said Rose, whose Raptors faced the Pistons at the Palace last night. "It was an isolated incident. I don't think anything close to that will happen again.

"In sports, whether it was the time the baseball player threw the chair into the stands, or the time a baseball player hit the mascot over the head with a bat, even though he was joking, when it spills over to the fans, law enforcement from that town will be involved."

Of course, we in Canada know all too well that sometimes even things that occur "between the lines" draw the attention of police. The names of hockey players Todd Bertuzzi and Marty McSorley will ring a bell.

Regardless, Detroit radio and TV stations were overwhelmed with debate about the various charges yesterday:

"Why did Jermaine O'Neal get charged with two counts of assault and battery, when he is accused of attacking someone who had come on to the court, while Stephen Jackson, who is accused of pounding on people in the stands, get charged with only one count?"

"These charges are too light, for everyone involved."

But is that really true?

No one was badly injured. As prosecutors explained, that's the main reason more serious charges could not be filed.

Luckily or unluckily, the video images will last a lifetime. It undoubtedly was terrifying for the innocent bystanders who were present. But for those of us who weren't there, let's be honest: The whole thing has played out like an entertaining and amusing form of reality TV.

The best news yesterday was that fans accused of escalating the chaos by throwing beer into players' faces were nabbed. What's more, while Artest was charged for allegedly assaulting someone in the stands, he was not charged for allegedly assaulting a fan who stepped on to the court and approached Artest in a menacing fashion. That was deemed to be self-defence. Bravo.

None of this will have any long-term impact in a legal sense. But symbolically, holding the fans as responsible as the players for the brouhaha is a satisfying and overdue development.


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