Prosecutor’s office rejects claims of favoritism in Adrien Broner case
The Hamilton County (Ohio) Prosecutor’s office defended its handling of boxer Adrien Broner on Thursday amid claims it went easy on him in allowing him to fight Friday on Spike TV because of his status as a famous boxer.
Broner remains free to participate in a nationally-televised boxing match in Washington, D.C. against Ashley Theophane (9 p.m. ET) despite a warrant for his arrest on charges of felonious assault and aggravated robbery.
“We always use common sense and good judgment when examining each case,” Julie Wilson, chief assistant prosecutor and public information officer for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office, told RingTV.com. “We feel very satisfied in the way the case was handled.”
That Broner is allowed to fight tonight because of a controversial legal decision conjures up memories of 2012 when a Las Vegas judge put off Floyd Mayweather’s jail sentence on domestic violence charges because of “obligations” to face Miguel Cotto. The circumstances are different, however, in that Broner has been charged, not convicted.
But the allegations against the 26-year-old Broner are serious. Christopher Carson alleges in a civil suit filed in February that Broner knocked him out and took thousands of dollars in gambling winnings off him outside a Madisonville, Ohio, bowling alley in an early morning Jan. 21 incident. Carson alleges that Broner was armed during the encounter. The Cincinnati police claim they have a witness and video evidence of the incident, Cincinnati police detective Charles Zopfi told RingTV.com.
At the center of the legal controversy is the decision by the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office to change the pick-up radius of Broner’s warrant from nationwide to in-state. The change allows Broner to participate in a (at the time) title fight with Theophane at the DC Armory without risk of arrest.
The warrant was initially cast nationwide, the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office acknowledged, which would have allowed the D.C. police to pick up Broner and potentially extradite him to Cincinnati. In fact, D.C. police were in contact with Cincinnati authorities on numerous occasions before Friday, ready to pick him up, according to Detective Zopfi.
But that never happened. The Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office amended the warrant, according to Wilson, the spokesperson, to include only the state of Ohio, meaning Broner would be free to fight without risk of arrest while he was in D.C., where he also trained for the fight. (Broner lost his WBA junior welterweight title on the scales Thursday when he weighed 140.4 pounds; Theophane will claim the vacant title if he wins.)
Zopfi, who says he signed the initial warrant, maintains that Broner was treated differently because of his status as a famous fighter. If he was anyone else, Broner would have been picked up immediately, given the seriousness of the charges, the detective claims.
“His job is being a boxer, no different than a plumber, an electrician, a ditch digger or a fireman,” Zopfi, an investigator on the Broner case, told RingTV.com. “Just because he happens to have some celebrity status shouldn’t make a difference in how he’s treated. Based on the allegations and the information that I discovered in my investigation — that person should have been placed into custody, brought back to Ohio and a judge should have been the one to decide whether to give him a bond or no bond. That would have been up to the judge, facing the allegations he was looking at. I think he should have been dealt with like any other citizen.”
Wilson said that he was. The decision to change the status of the warrant wasn’t because he is a famous fighter or because he had a lucrative fight on national television on Friday.
“The warrant was changed with the understanding he will turn himself in after the fight and be here on Monday,” Wilson said in a phone interview. “If he doesn’t turn himself in, then the status of the warrant will be changed. But we take everything on a case-by-case basis and we’re satisfied this case was handled with good judgment and common sense.”
Zopfi suggested that Broner’s Cincinnati-based attorney, Will Welsh, has a close relationship with the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney, Joseph Deters, and that the two worked closely to allow Broner to fight on Friday. Wilson would not comment on the nature of the relationship. Welsh described it as “adversarial” in a phone interview. He also said it wasn’t uncommon for a criminal attorney to speak to Deters during cases.
“If someone thinks that he’s doing me a favor, I would hope that he listens to me out of respect, just as I would for him,” Welsh told RingTV.com. “Any criminal defense attorney that has a problem can call Joe (Deters). That’s what he’s there for. He’s not a prosecuting attorney just for certain citizens. He’s for everybody. If you have an issue with his office he’s always willing to listen.”
But Zopfi suggested it went beyond simple professional courtesy. Shortly after the nationwide warrant was signed by Zopfi in mid-March, Zopfi said he was told to inform Welsh that Broner needed to turn himself in right away. Zopfi said in signing the warrant he consulted with “one of the chief prosecutors” in the Hamilton Prosecutor’s Office, who signed off on it (he declined to say who). Wilson declined to comment on this claim.
The understanding was that Broner would be allowed to fly back to D.C. for the fight after he attended an arraignment in Cincinnati and posted the bond (10 percent of $100,000), Zopfi said.
But that arrangement was ultimately rejected. Zopfi said that Welsh wanted to go in a different direction. “Specifically, he said, ‘Well, I have to call Joe,’ which is Deters,” Zopfi said. “So that’s how it got to that point.” Shortly thereafter, Zopfi said, the warrant’s pick-up radius was changed to only include Ohio.
“I’ve never in my almost 20 years (on the force) seen a pick-up radius reduced without extreme extenuating circumstances — a death in the family, or they’re in the hospital,” Zopfi said. “It’s not something that’s normally done, and I don’t see why it was done in this case. You don’t just leave somebody out there with active warrants on them and treat them any differently if it was you yourself.”
Welsh rejected the idea the prosecutor’s office used preferential treatment on Broner. “There was no favoritism whatsoever,” Welsh said in a phone interview. “They look at every individual case whether it’s Adrien Broner or John Smith — it makes no difference to them. It’s just the fairness of the situation. One thing the prosecutor’s office is is very driven. If you have a true victim of a crime they always side with them and tend to their needs first.”
Welsh implied that the timing of when the civil suit was filed, on Feb. 5, and when the charges were brought in late March cast uncertainty on the merit of the suit and said this factored in to getting the warrant changed. “I had discussions with the prosecutor,” Welsh said. “And they were willing to listen and look at the facts in that this alleged incident occurred in January and that a civil suit was filed in February and the criminal charges came about a week before he was to fight. It’s not difficult to see what was being done here. And I assured them he was not a flight risk and he is going to address these charges and allegations head on. He’s not running from anything.”
The status of the warrant apparently impacted the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission’s decision to grant Broner a license to fight on Friday. The commission said in a statement that it deferred to the legal process when deciding not to withhold his license.
After talking over the matter with Broner’s representatives and checking with the Hamilton County courts, the commission felt “satisfied that Mr. Broner has reached an agreement with the appropriate law enforcement and judicial authorities in Ohio through which he will address this serious legal matter,” the statement said. “Barring any changes in these facts ÔÇª the Commission has no plans to withhold a license for Mr. Broner.”
Mitch Abramson is a former reporter for the New York Daily News. He can be reached on Twitter at: @Mabramson13.