State senator proposes making it felony to assault referees, officials at sporting events

LANSING (AP) - A state senator is sponsoring legislation to make it a felony to assault a referee or other official at a sporting event in Michigan.

Detroit Democrat Morris Hood III said he decided to propose the law after referees in southeastern Michigan approached him in the aftermath of soccer referee John Bieniewicz's death at an adult league game in Livonia last summer. Bassel Saad, a player ejected from the game, goes on trial Feb. 23 on a second-degree murder charge.

"They were concerned about having some protections and that had to be a part of it," Hood told the Detroit Free Press. "They had been followed out to parking lots and harassed during games. They've been followed home and gotten threatening emails" and tweets.

Twenty-three other states have laws on the books regarding assaults on referees, according to the Wisconsin-based National Association of Sports Officials.

The bill would make assaulting a referee a felony punishable by up to three years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who also officiates at high school football, said he likes the proposal.

"I think that sports officials put themselves in harm's way because they're in the middle of heated confrontations," Leyton said. "There's always an enhanced possibility that a sport's official is going to be victimized."

Hood's legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose Republican chairman, Rick Jones of Grand Ledge, backed a similar measure when he was in the Michigan House. He said he wants to study details of Hood's proposal but likes its goal.

"I do believe that there should be a specific crime if you attack a coach or a referee," Jones told "It's happened in this state. We need to make sure that people understand that you don't attack a referee just because you don't like a call."

Published: Mon, Feb 02, 2015