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Fighting charges hit Jazz rookie

But attorney calls Stevenson a victim

SHARE Fighting charges hit Jazz rookie

California high school basketball star DeShawn Stevenson faces a misdemeanor charge of fighting in public stemming from an incident that occurred the night the Jazz selected him in this year's NBA Draft.

The Fresno County, Calif., District Attorney's office filed the charge Tuesday against Stevenson, whose attorney maintained that his client was a victim who merely engaged in self-defense.

The highly publicized incident occurred on the night of June 28, following a Fresno-area high school basketball all-star game.

Stevenson attended the game just a few hours after the Jazz had selected him 23rd overall in the first round of the draft, essentially making the 19-year-old McDonald's and Parade All-American an instant millionaire.

"There is absolutely no question here that DeShawn was a victim of an attack while attending a basketball game," said Rick Berman, Stevenson's Fresno-based attorney.

Berman, who according to Jazz officials has been authorized to speak regarding the matter on the behalf of the organization, calls Stevenson "an innocent man."

The Fresno County DA's office, however, decided to charge Stevenson with the misdemeanor, which according to California law is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $400 fine. Berman said defendants found guilty of the crime in the Fresno County court system are typically fined $100 and receive no jail time.

Either way, Berman said he does not anticipate Stevenson will be punished. "Let me put that in simple lawyer's terms: That ain't gonna happen. . . . I know what the end (result) will be. I just don't know how long it will take to get there," Berman said.

Berman said he would soon appear in court to answer charges on behalf of Stevenson, who is in Fresno preparing to join the Jazz for training camp in October.

"We look forward to pleading not guilty," he said. "We're going to walk him out of (the courthouse) with his head held high, and he will go on to make Fresno very proud.

"DeShawn has a wonderful reputation as a peaceful and law-abiding guy," said Berman, whose client is not previously known to have been charged with a crime. "He is truly one of the good guys in our community. Our community is very proud of him, and there is no question he will be exonerated in this situation."

The Jazz seem to agree.

"Just because you're charged with something doesn't mean you're guilty," said Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations. "We think he was a victim, and it is a non-story for us. We stand totally behind him."

Berman described Stevenson, who was not made available for comment, as being "disappointed" over the charge against him.

One night after the Jazz drafted him, Stevenson came to Salt Lake City for a news conference at the Delta Center, where he portrayed himself as a victim of an attack prompted by "jealousy."

After the Jazz called his name, Stevenson drove his new Lexus sport utility vehicle to the city-county all-star game at Buchanan High School in Clovis, a small community adjacent to Fresno.

The shooting guard sat in the stands, signing autographs and receiving congratulations on being drafted.

According to a police report, Stevenson and Chris Sims, 18, fought following the game. The fight was a primary part of a mini-brawl that broke out in the gym.

Sims, an ex-friend and sports teammate of Stevenson's who had played in the all-star game, has been charged with three misdemeanors: fighting in public, resisting arrest and possession of a weapon on school grounds.

According to Ken Hahus, the district attorney handling the case, the weapon was "a utility razor knife."

Authorities on hand at the game tried to break up the fight, but Sims allegedly broke free and chased Stevenson in the stands. He also allegedly chased Stevenson into the parking lot, where Stevenson drove off and Sims was taken into custody.

"He (Stevenson) was attacked, tried to defend himself and walked away from the fight twice," Berman said before holding a news conference at his Fresno office. "Police were struggling to hold down attackers who broke away and went after DeShawn again."

"DeShawn put his hands up and retreated," Berman added during the Tuesday press conference. "He simply defended himself."

According to his statement to police, Sims blames Stevenson and his friends for starting the fight.

But Stevenson has said he was the one jumped by Sims and others. He admits hitting Sims, but he says it was in self-defense. Results of a polygraph exam, Berman said, support Stevenson's contentions.

Neither Sims nor Stevenson was seriously injured.

A school janitor who witnessed the fight said Stevenson was attacked, but according to the police report an unnamed witness later identified Stevenson as the instigator.

Witnesses reportedly have told investigators that the fight actually stems from a disagreement over a woman; Berman said it was related to the fact that Sims' girlfriend is a relative of Stevenson's girlfriend, but he would not elaborate.

The court date for Sims, who is now a freshman football player at Fresno State University, is Monday. If convicted, he faces up to one year in a California state prison and a $1,000 fine.

Another man, Calvin Howell Jr., 20, was cited the night of the incident for fighting in public and use of offensive words, both misdemeanors. Hahus, however, said there is not enough evidence to support filing charges against Howell, a cousin of Sims'.

Contributing: Special correspondent Anthony Witrado, Fresno Bee

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com