Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Tuesday the fighting game between two Mater Dei football players that left one with a brain injury and broken nose does not meet the legal standards for criminal “hazing” or felony assault, but he is willing to consider additional evidence.
News of the fight over the past week has gone viral, overshadowing the achievements of the champion football team, its coaches and academic officials. Many have questioned why Spitzer has not filed criminal charges in the case — either against the boy who won the fight or school leaders.
Spitzer, in a statement to the Southern California News Group, explained why he viewed the altercation in the Mater Dei locker room as “mutual combat,” despite a Santa Ana police report describing the injured player as “defenseless.” Police recommended felony assault charges against the victor.
“This incident has been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement and reviewed blow by blow by the most experienced prosecutors in my office to see if we could prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” Spitzer said. “We cannot.”
Spitzer continued that neither player participated against their will in the game, which appears to be a tradition on the Mater Dei football team called “bodies.”
“The participants knew they were being filmed and they started throwing punches. Some punches landed; others did not, but it is unequivocally clear that both participants attempted to land as many punches as possible,” Spitzer said. “There is not a single shred of evidence to show that this was anything other than a mutual combat situation with two willing participants who traded blow for blow, including repeated punches to each other’s heads. That does not make it acceptable. But it is not a crime.”
No one tried to stop fight
He added that no one, not even the participants, tried to stop the fight until after the damage had been done.
“At no time did one of the players in the fight tell the other player to stop, even when the punches became head shots and attempted head shots. When another (observer) said stop, both players stopped throwing punches,” Spitzer said.
The Southern California News Group is not naming the two participants because they are juveniles, but is describing the injured player as Player 1 and the other as Player 2. Player 1 weighed about 50 pounds less than Player 2.
The rules of the “bodies” game are few — players punch at each other’s torsos until one gives up. No punches are allowed below the belt or to the face. However, during the game in question, both players started swinging at each other’s faces, according to two videos of the altercation obtained by Southern California News Group and a lawsuit by the injured player.
Midway through the fight, Player 2 landed one punch and then a second to Player 1’s face.
Player 2 “punched (Player 1) on the right side of the face with his left hand before (Player 1) could strike,” said the Santa Ana police report by Detective. David Angel.
“After this, it appeared as though (Player 1) was stunned for the first time in the game/fight. Up until this point, (Player 1) was moving forward and striking (Player 2) punch for punch after every exchange. After being hit this time, (Player 1) stood in front of (Player 2) without moving while holding his right hand over his eyes. This was an apparent sign that he was done with the fight and could not continue the game.
“It is my opinion that at this moment (Player 1) was no longer in the fight due to being hurt by the punch. I believe the fact that (Player 1) stopped punching and moving toward (Player 2) and instead stood still and put his hand over his face, a reasonable person would recognize that (Player 1) was hurt and defenseless at that moment,” Angel wrote.
“At this time (Player 2) threw one final punch that was beyond the scope of the game. The last strike was a punch to a defenseless opponent as he was hurt and dazed from the previous punch, causing serious bodily damage to (Player 1’s) face,” Angel wrote. ““Based on the video evidence, it is clear that both of the boys involved were willing participants in ‘Bodies’ game.”
He added: “Based on the documented injuries, which included a broken nose and lacerations above both eyes, I am forwarding this report to the … district attorney’s office for filing felony battery charges on (Player 2).”
Hazing ‘unacceptable’ in any form
While concluding there was not enough evidence to file charges, Spitzer urged anyone with more information to contact his office.
“As the elected district attorney of Orange County, I have and will continue to protect our children from harm. The safety of our children is all of our responsibility,” he said. “At this point, there is no evidence of hazing or any other crime that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“I have and continue to be willing to review any and all information related to this incident and any incident involving potential hazing in our schools. Hazing in any form is unacceptable and if I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone — whether a player, a coach, or a school administration — has engaged in or condoned hazing, I will hold them accountable.”
Spitzer also said school athletics should strive for better conduct.
“What happened in the Mater Dei locker room on February 4, 2021 is nothing anyone should be proud of and it falls short of the kind of character any of us should wish for our children,” Spitzer said. “Schools must remain safe places for our children to thrive and learn — and to develop the character that we want to see in all of our children. Watching two children trade blow for blow in a locker room environment should be unsettling for everyone. It was for me.”