UFC star Conor McGregor faces 12 criminal charges as a consequence of his bizarre and violent behavior during UFC 223 Media Day on Thursday at Barclays Center. McGregor and as many as two dozen of his associates—described as “hoodlums” by UFC president Dana White—unexpectedly gained access to the media event. While there, McGregor is shown on video hurling a hand dolly through the window of a bus containing other UFC fighters. Other objects, including chairs and rails, were also thrown during the ruckus.
At least two UFC fighters, Michael Chiesa and Ray Borg, apparently suffered significant injuries as a result of the attack. Chiesa’s face was lacerated and Borg suffered an eye injury. Both Chiesa and Borg will now miss their scheduled fights in UFC 223 on Saturday night. In an interview with MMAjunkie, White says McGregor also broke a UFC employee’s knuckles.
McGregor, a native of Ireland, turned himself into the New York City Police Department and has been processed at the 78th Precinct in Brooklyn. Bail has been set at $50,000 and McGregor has been ordered to avoid other persons involved in the incident. McGregor was not the only person charged. According to ESPN, McGregor’s Straight Blast Gym (SBG) teammate, Cian Cowley, also faces assault and felony charges.
There remains uncertainty as to why the 29-year-old McGregor—who has reportedly earned more than $100 million in fights as well as millions more from lucrative endorsement deals with blue chip companies like Burger King and Anheuser-Busch—would launch an assault on the bus. This attack not only jeopardizes McGregor’s mixed martial arts and boxing careers but, more worrisomely for McGregor, could also land him behind bars.
One possible explanation for the assault relates to McGregor’s possible anger about White’s recent decision to take away McGregor’s UFC lightweight champion belt. Then again, White’s decision was neither surprising nor objectively unreasonable: McGregor hasn’t fought for UFC since November 2016—his most recent fight wasn’t even a UFC fight, it was a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., last August. It’s also not clear why McGregor would attack a bus full of fellow fighters in response to a decision by management.
For his part, White told media that McGregor’s conduct had nothing to do with the title stripping. Instead, White links the assault to some sort of grievance between rival groups connected to McGregor and UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov, who will fight Al Iaquinta as the main event in Saturday’s UFC 223.
ASSESSING THE CRIMINAL CHARGES AND EVIDENCE AGAINST MCGREGOR
Regardless of McGregor’s motivations for launching an assault, he now faces criminal charges for the incursion. Most immediately concerning for McGregor and his attorneys are two felony charges for criminal mischief.
At its core, criminal mischief refers to intentionally damaging or defacing other persons’ property. The classification of criminal mischief as a felony depends on the degree of damaged caused. In New York, causing $250 of damages can lead to a felony charge that carries a potential sentence of up to four years in prison. Damages in excess of $5,000 can lead to a maximum prison sentence of seven years. McGregor faces one felony charge for causing more than $5,000 in damage and another felony charge for causing between $250 and $5,000 in damage. As a result, he could face up to 11 years in prison if convicted on both charges. As a first-time offender, however, McGregor would almost certainly not be sentenced to such a lengthy prison term.
Unfortunately for McGregor, video evidence alone could make the criminal mischief prosecution against him fairly simple. As New York City criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland tells SI.com, “The video appears to reflect McGregor wantonly smashing a vehicle window. Assuming the damages exceeds $250 and he had no right to shatter it, the district attorney has an easy path to pursue should the full weight of the criminal law come to bear.”
McGregor also faces 10 misdemeanor charges. These mainly relate to assault, attempted assault, menacing and reckless endangerment. Taken together, these charges refer to intentionally or recklessly causing, or attempting to cause, injury to another person or placing them in fear of death or imminent serious harm. While misdemeanor convictions can lead to jail sentences of months or even a year, first-time offenders often avoid jail time. Instead, they might receive some combination of probation, community service, fines and restitution to the victims.
As with the felony charges, video evidence of McGregor throwing objects would be used against him as proof of assault, reckless endangerment and the other misdemeanors. Assuming the facial, optical and knuckle injuries suffered by Chiesa, Borg and the unnamed UFC employee, respectively, are proven to have occurred as a result of the melee (and are not pre-existing), McGregor’s actions would be directly connected to those injuries.
ASSESSING MCGREGOR’S POSSIBLE DEFENSES
By choosing the Barclays Center to launch an attack, McGregor and his associates selected a professional sports and entertainment venue that was bound to contain surveillance cameras in many rooms and around every corner. They either wanted the world to see the attack or they inexplicably neglected to consider the presence of cameras. This is unfortunate for McGregor and his legal team: video evidence makes it impossible for him to argue that the incident did not occur.
Video evidence alone, however, may not be enough for prosecutors to prove McGregor’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. For one, the videos that are available online may not be the only videos available. It’s possible that additional footage not only exists, but also complicates the narrative of McGregor as the culprit.
To that point, McGregor could claim that he acted in self-defense. Indeed, depending on the contents and credibility of witness statements, as well as the duration and quality of available video, Saland believes self-defense would be possible for McGregor. “What evidence,” the defense attorney asks, “reflects McGregor was the initial aggressor or didn’t act in a manner to protect himself? The video reflects a skirmish, but what did it fail to record?”
In addition, other fighters—including the injured ones—may be unwilling to testify as witnesses against McGregor. “Will the athletes McGregor is alleged to have assaulted,” Saland wonders, “want to look like tomato cans and acknowledge they suffered physical injuries and substantial pain when they likely dole out—and are the recipients of—much greater combat in the Octagon?” Saland’s point reflects a theme often detected in sports-injury cases. Athletes victimized by other athletes sometimes feel uncomfortable cooperating with the criminal justice system to hold the wrongful athletes accountable.
It’s also worth noting that McGregor and prosecutors could eventually work out a plea deal where McGregor pleads guilty to lesser charges. In exchange, prosecutors would drop the more severe charges. As a result of such a deal, McGregor might avoid jail time. However, he would still face lesser punishments, such as probation, fines or community service.
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SOURCE: Sports Illustrated – Michael McCann