Jury acquits father of assault

Man accused of attacking high school lacrosse coach

`Some good came out of this'

Defense said he was trying to protect son, teammate

Carroll County

October 19, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County man who was videotaped at his son's high school lacrosse game tangling with a coach for the opposing team was acquitted yesterday of assault after his lawyers portrayed him as a parent protecting players during an on-field melee.

The jury deliberated about 45 minutes before finding William Augustus Bell Jr., 40, of the first block of Fairview Ave. in Mount Airy not guilty at the end of a one-day trial before Carroll County Circuit Judge J. Barry Hughes.

While prosecutors portrayed Bell as an overzealous fan, the verdict closed another case involving violence at youth sporting events.

A videotape captured the brawl between rivals South Carroll and Liberty High schools at their game April 30 at Liberty's field in Eldersburg. Bell, the parent of a South Carroll lacrosse player, was charged in May with second-degree assault in an incident involving Liberty assistant coach Micah S. Reese, 23, of Eldersburg.

Reese testified yesterday that he acted within his responsibility when he entered the field to pull South Carroll players off a Liberty player who had lost his helmet. That's when Bell grabbed Reese by his collar and shook him, he said.

"There's no disagreement that the scene was chaos," Allan Culver, an assistant Carroll County state's attorney, told the jury of five women and seven men. "But the state's position is that Mr. Bell didn't make the situation any better. He went from being a fan to a fanatic."

Bell pleaded not guilty, saying that he walked onto the field only to retrieve his son and protect one of his teammates, who he said was being forcibly removed by Reese.

Relief flooded Bell's face and those of about a dozen friends and family members who hugged him and shook his hand.

Bell's attorney, W. Bradley Bauhof, said after the verdict, "Something good came out of this, and that is that the Board of Education's policy needs to be reviewed."

Bauhof said since the fight, Bell has not been allowed to attend South Carroll High School events. Bell hopes those sanctions will now be lifted, he added.

Jurors viewed the tape during the trial and during deliberations. It showed the game was tied at 13 with 2 minutes and 59 seconds left in the final quarter when a South Carroll player started a shoving match near the South Carroll goal. Within seconds, it escalated into a fistfight. Referees stopped the fight, but it started again when a Liberty player rushed an opponent at midfield and flattened him. The attack cleared both benches as other players joined the fight.

Then several adults ran onto the field.

Bauhof said that Bell acted with the same intention as Reese, but more as a concerned parent who could not stand by and do nothing while "the fight raged on unchecked." The lack of adults controlling the situation forced him to act, Bauhof said.

"This is not about being a fan. This is about being a father," Bauhof told the jurors. "Put yourself in Mr. Bell's shoes. If you're on the visiting team and no one's slowing this fight down, you can't sit and watch your kid getting pounded."

Another South Carroll parent, Tim J. Fowler of Mount Airy, testified that he and Bell entered the field only after they realized the situation had deteriorated.

"Both Mr. Bell and I looked at each other and realized a tragedy was happening on the field," Fowler said. "We were very concerned parents. He was very calm and collected. We wanted to do the right thing."

Reese testified that it wasn't the parents' place to try to control the situation.

"We're out there to set an example for these kids," Reese said. "They [the players] completely acted out of line, but then to have adults get into it says to the kids, `That's fine.'"

In the tape, Reese leaves the sidelines and tries to pull players away from the fight. A portion of the videotape then focuses on Bell, who screams at Reese and puts his hands around Reese's neck and shakes him.

Bell testified that his only intention was to get to his son. He said he saw Reese -- who was not wearing a uniform -- being aggressive with his son's teammates.

"I just saw him slamming and throwing kids, and that was enough," Bell said.

After the melee was quelled, officials suspended the game. Carroll schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker suspended three players from each of the teams for the rest of the lacrosse season and suspended three others from each team for one game. Each team also had to forfeit two games.

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