BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards outlawed harassment of a referee with his signature Monday, June 17, the same day police say a brawl hospitalized an official after a recreational basketball game at Perkins Road Community Park.
BRPD says the woman, who was officiating inside the on-site gym, called a foul on the same player, Jamaal Lofton, two nights in a row. After the second call, another woman, identified as Angel Johnson, allegedly came down from the stands and started a fight that escalated into a brawl. On June 27, police arrested Johnson for her involvement in the altercation.
Arrest reports say she approached the referee and a fight ensued. Lofton allegedly punched the referee in the face multiple times as well.
Police arrested Lofton on July 2 on similar charges.
“When we looked at [referee harassment] more closely, we saw it was happening everywhere,” Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said. “Little did we know that it was going to happen two blocks from my law office.”
Claitor carried Metairie Republican Rep. Cameron Henry’s bill in the Senate. It defines harassment of a referee as verbal or non-verbal behavior that would cause a reasonable person to be placed in fear of receiving bodily harm. The law does not protect college or professional referees.
All violators will be fined up to $500, and some could be jailed for up to 90 days. Offenders will have to do 40 hours of community service and enroll in certain counseling courses.
“You can’t charge someone criminally for saying something you don’t like,” Claitor said. “But it’s a whole different thing when it’s clearly escalated to the point that violence is the next step.”
The law also prohibits spectators from returning to a venue they’ve been ejected or banned from, punishable with a fine or jail time.
Claitor says some leagues have a hard time finding officials because “many of them feel threatened.”
“It’s one thing to be unhappy and express your displeasure in a way that we’re all okay with, but it’s completely different to escalate," he said.
Police say the official at BREC park sustained moderate injuries, a term generally associated with broken bones. Johnson was charged with battery of a school or recreation athletic contest official and second-degree battery.
“It’s recreation,” BREC spokesperson, Cheryl Michelet, lamented. “It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be healthy activity.”
Michelet says participants in BREC leagues must sign a code of conduct contract. BREC can ban spectators, players, and coaches from all of their facilities for violating their rules.
“This is the first type of problem like this that we’ve had,” Michelet said. “You see behavior issues in every facility that we have, but this goes beyond that. This is battery.”
“The BREC system is yours because it belongs to the taxpayer, and I think we all have to work together to make the system the best it can be. That means how you behave," she continued.
Act 355 takes effect Aug. 1.