Bill will make abuse of officials illegal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 8, 2001

Staff Writer

Catcalls to a referee or umpire may wind up costly for some parents.

A bill introduced in the Alabama Legislature’s regular session would make it a crime to harass, menace or assault sports officials.

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Under existing law, a person can be found guilty of harassment, menacing and assault but there is, currently, there is no law that specifically makes it a crime to harass, menace or assault a sports official.

A House Bill 144, introduced by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, "would increase the punishment for crimes of harassment, menacing and assault in the first, second and third degree if the crimes are committed against a sports official performing official duties at a sports event." A similar bill in the Senate, SB-299, is being sponsored by Sens. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile, and Sundra Escott-Russell, D-Birmingham.

The bills define a sports official as "a person at a sports event who enforces the rules of the event, such as an umpire or referee, or a person who supervises the participants, such as a coach."

Sports events will include all levels of competition from youth leagues to college, both interscholastic and intramural. It also includes any activity sponsored by a community, business, non-profit organization, as well as professional and semiprofessional activities.

State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said he favors punishing those who get a little too caught up in a game, but wants that punishment to fit the crime.

"I think some form of penalty would be appropriate," Mitchell said.

"But, we don’t need to take the enthusiasm out of the game or stymie the game, but I think assaulting an official should be penalized."

State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, believes the bill is "well intended" and expects to vote in favor of its passage.

He said fans "from the T-ball level to professional sports" have taken arguing with officials to the extreme.

"That does not need to be happening in front of children," Boothe said of verbal and physical abuse going on at the ballpark. "When children see officials being attacked, that sends a bad message."

Another reason, Boothe supports the intentions is because officials are "not doing it for the money" and should not be subjected to such abuse.

"It’s gotten dangerous to be an official," Boothe said.

Some of that danger could be taken away if the bill is signed into law.

Under Section 13A-6-23 of the Code of Alabama 1975, a person can be charged with harassment if he or she "with intent" harasses, annoys or alarms another person by striking, shoving, kicking or touching a person or "directs abusive or obscene language or makes an obscene gesture towards another person." Harassment of a sports official under those guidelines is a Class B misdemeanor, which has a penalty of not more than six months inprisonment and carries a fine of not more than $1,000.

Menacing a sports official would result if an individual "intentionally places or attempts to place another person in fear of imminent serious physical injury" by physical action, according to Section 13A-6-23. Such a crime is a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by not more than one year in the county jail and a fine of no more than $2,000.

Third degree assault of a sports official is defined in Section 13A-6-22 as a crime in which physical injury is reckless or intentional or results because of criminal negligence or interferes with a peace officer performing a lawful duty. It is a Class C felony punishable by not more than 10 years or less than one year and one day inprisonment and a fine of not more than $5,000.

Second degree assault of a sports official involves the intentional or reckless serious physical injury of another person. Under the proposed law it is a Class B felony, which carries a penalty of for not more than 20 years or less than two years. The fine is not more than $10,000.

A Class B or C felony in which a firearm or deadly weapon is used or attempted to be used carries a sentence of not less than 10 years.

A person who commits the crime of first degree assault of a sports official can be charged with a Class A felony if he or she intentionally causes serious physical injury or disfigures another person. Punishment of such a crime means a term of life inprisonment or not more than 99 years or less than 10 years and a fine of not more than $20,000. A Class A felony in which a firearm or deadly weapon is used or attempted to be used carries the punishment of not less than 20 years in prison.