Earlier today TMZ posted video of Bellator fighter, and former top UFC lightweight, Roger Huerta apparently involved in a street brawl. I live in Austin, Texas and have some familiarity with the way justice is imposed around here so I thought I'd do a little informed speculation on whether or not Huerta is in serious legal trouble or just minor legal trouble.
Basically Huerta was out on Austin's 6th St at bar closing time. That's the entertainment district, a mini-Bourbon street and when all the bars throw out all the drunks simultaneously at 2am, trouble always ensues. Huerta apparently saw a very large man hit a woman in the back. He got pissed off and confronted the man (who's much larger than the lightweight Huerta) and according to TMZ is caught on video finishing the fight with a curb stomp to the unconscious cad.
No charges have currently been filed.
Huerta is clearly captured on video confronting the man, but these things are not so simple. Cage Potato does a brilliant job of deconstructing the video and makes a nice case that it's not even Huerta at the end of the video. I'm not going to even attempt to summarize their case, but it's good enough to get an acquittal and maybe even win a libel case for Roger. But here is some commentary from CP:
I find it amazing that TMZ, who also have a daily television show and undoubtedly have access to far superior video editing equipment than my Macbook Pro, were unable to clean up the video quality of the stomp allegedly administered by Huerta, yet they pulled these clean screen captures from the beginning of the video to perhaps misleadingly make readers believe it was Roger who put his foot down on the guy's head, when it is unclear exactly who is the assaulter in the video.
At first, I figured that they rather purposely didn't write anything that pointed to Huerta as being the guy who used PRIDE rules on the street, leaving the assumption up to the readers by means of the power of suggestion, but after re-reading the post, I realized they didn't deserve the benefit of the doubt I originally afforded them.
So now that we've raised the question of whether it was even Roger or not, I actually broke my "I'm just a blogger" rule and did some reporting and spoke to Austin, TX criminal defense attorney, Jamie Spencer about the case and the likelihood of Huerta being charged, convicted or sued.
Read all about it in the full entry:
He said the first decision point for authorities is whether or not to investigate the matter to determine two things: did an offense occur; and who did it. Despite what we apparently see on the video, the Austin County or District Attorney's offices (in Austin, the County Attorney prosecute's misdemeanors, the DA does felonies), has to be pretty deliberate when they look at the case and make sure it won't be a big fat waste of tax payer money to bring charges.
The case is already being investigated by the Austin Police. Spencer did say that Huerta's celebrity status will actually hurt him at this point in the case. The local authorities will be reluctant to appear that Huerta is getting off easy because of his celebrity status so they're actually MORE likely to charge Roger than they would a "normal" person.
Ok, so IF charges are filed, there are basically three categories of assault that it could be. The Texas Penal Code lays out several possible charges for this that could be filed against Huerta. Spencer summarized the different classes of charges like this: Class C misdemeanor, which he called the "pinching somebody's butt on the bus" level; Class A misdemeanor which he said "covers a huge bell curve of possible behaviors"; and the Felony level which would entail serious bodily harm, use of a weapon, or even death.
We currently have no idea of the injuries sustained, if any, by the guy who got stomped. Spencer said his best guess is that IF the case is pursued it would be by the Travis County Attorney as a Class A misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for that is a possible $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Once charges are filed, Huerta has a right to a jury trial. He could waive that right and get a trial by judge, but he would be a fool to do so. Spencer said there is a very real threat of "jury nullification" in this case. That's when the prosecutor can prove it happened, but the jury just doesn't think it's a crime and refuses to convict. Since Roger Huerta basically looks like Sir Galahad to the rescue in this video and we're in Texas, it's hard to imagine ANY jury convicting in this case.
But if he is somehow convicted, then the whole "the guy was beating up a woman" bit will become legally valid in the punishment phase. It's hard to see how any Texas judge doesn't get a bit lenient there. Spencer said, "what judge or jury wouldn't give Huerta probation instead of jail for defending the honor of a young lady?"
So that leaves civil litigation. Essentially most law suits are filed in the hopes that the defendant will pay some money to make the case go away. The problem from the perspective of the guy who got stomped is this: this case is easily the best PR Roger Huerta has had since he was on the cover of SI.com. If I was representing him, I'd rather pay a PR company to KEEP the story in the news than pay some woman hitter to make the case go away.
Matt Bishop comments on another angle, will/should Huerta be punished by his bosses at Bellator:
Huerta put himself in that situation and it will be interesting to see if a) law enforcement officials in Austin, Texas bring up charges on him and b) If Bellator has the contractual power to punish him, will they?
As a professional mixed martial artist, Huerta is trained with skills that could potentially kill people. And as we know, any fight can turn deadly quickly. From the video, someone, presumably a friend of Huerta's, comes running over to him as he takes his shirt off yelling "Roger! Roger!" obviously trying to stop him. Then Huerta takes off flying after the man after it appeared another person tried to get to him.
Regardless of motivation, Huerta, as a professional, has to know better than to partake in things like this. It's clear seeing a defenseless woman get hit set him off, and judging by his manager's comments to TMZ ("I have not spoken to Roger yet about this incident, but I can say that it's in his nature to be very protective of women."), it seems clear there is some sort of history as it pertains to situations like this.
As a man, Huerta stood up for what he believed in and took vigilante action that he deemed appropriate. Although I find it difficult to commend street violence, he was taking a stand against someone who hit a defenseless woman and took action that nearly every one of us would contemplate doing. However, as a professional, Huerta's actions need to be looked at seriously and the potential consequences need to be weighed.
I honestly don't know what the correct and prudent action is here. This is such a different situation that toes many different lines. UFC president Dana White probably said it best when he told TMZ, "In no way do I condone street fighting, but when a guy puts his hands on a woman he deserves to be knocked the f*ck out. Good for Roger."
I think it's a solid bet that Bjorn Rebney of Bellator will follow Dana White's model here.