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Toobin: NBA brawl probe involves more than videotape


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CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
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A fan talks about the NBA brawl and what led up to it.
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On the Scene
Jeffrey Toobin
Ron Artest
Detroit (Michigan)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest has been suspended for the rest of the season for fighting with fans after an NBA game against the Detroit Pistons ended with a brawl in the stands.

Police are reviewing videotape of last week's fight to determine whether any players or fans should be charged with crimes. CNN anchor Bill Hemmer discussed the legal ramifications Tuesday with CNN analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

HEMMER: What are the possibilities for criminal charges?

TOOBIN: The prosecutor spoke yesterday, and he said basically you're looking at all misdemeanors, a simple assault and battery, with the possible exception of the person who threw the chair, which might be a felony.

HEMMER: Explain why that could be more offensive?

TOOBIN: Because the potential for harm is greater. Being hit by a chair, you could have a very serious injury.

And that's how the gradations of assault work. Throwing fists, which is essentially a bar fight, is more or less what went on. Fists and throwing drinks -- that's a lesser kind of assault than throwing a chair.

HEMMER: It's clear that the videotape is the best piece of evidence the prosecutors will work from.

TOOBIN: Interestingly, though, they are investigating a separate player for an incident that apparently took place off camera.

HEMMER: Which apparently happened in the tunnel.

TOOBIN: Right. Just because it wasn't on camera doesn't mean it didn't happen. So that's one of the things they're looking at.

HEMMER: So if you've got the evidence that you got your nose beat in, in the tunnel underneath the Palace ...

TOOBIN: And if you have witnesses to that, you could bring that case, too.

HEMMER: Listen to the prosecutor in Oakland County [Michigan] talk about this.

[BEGIN VIDEO CLIP]

DAVID GORCYCA, OAKLAND COUNTY PROSECUTOR: A mistaken identity won't be a justification or an excuse. And even if someone did throw water, you don't have a license or a green light to punch them. So he can claim self-defense, but that video again will speak for itself.

[END VIDEO CLIP]

HEMMER: There is the phrase of self-defense. What is he suggesting there?

TOOBIN: He's saying that he wouldn't file charges if he thought self-defense was a legitimate defense here. And it's hard to see how self-defense could work, especially since as far as we know Ron Artest was beating up the wrong guy.

Even if he was beating up the guy who threw the drink at him, I don't think a self-defense defense would work either.

But just because the prosecutor says he doesn't believe the defense is there doesn't mean if this thing were to come to trial that a defense lawyer couldn't raise it on Artest's behalf.

HEMMER: Could you dive into this whole matter about the Palace being culpable, whether or not they had enough security there?

TOOBIN: That really wouldn't have much of an impact in a criminal case. Now, someone, if they were injured, could sue Auburn Hills [a Detroit suburb], could sue the Palace, whoever is the owner of that. But you know -- and given the way lawyers think -- I wouldn't be surprised if someone were charged.

HEMMER: If you manage a venue anywhere in this country, I'd imagine at this point you're looking in to your own security detail.

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

You remember that the Palace authorities said, "Well, now we're going to step up to playoff-level security for the next few games."

Someone may argue that they should have had playoff-level security at all times. I mean, that's the kind of thing that they'll be just talking about for some time.


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