The Ohio State coach who used physical force against a student who bolted onto the field during a football game might not have any legal defenses for his actions, a law professor said.
Even so, there is no set protocol for handling the “rare” occurrence when an individual dashes onto the field mid-play, a University Police official said.
The student, identified as Anthony James Wunder, a 21-year-old studying mechanical engineering, ran onto the field during a game against Cincinnati at Ohio Stadium on Sept. 27.
Wunder has been charged with criminal trespassing — a misdemeanor of the fourth degree — said Lara Baker-Morrish, the chief prosecutor for the Columbus City Attorney.
Fourth-degree misdemeanors have a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and/or a $250 fine, Baker-Morrish said in an email.
Wunder’s attorney pleaded not guilty at his court date on behalf of Wunder on Tuesday and has demanded his right to a speedy trial before a jury.
The case has been assigned to Judge H. William Pollitt for a pre-trial hearing to be held on Oct. 16, Baker-Morrish said.
Although the outcome of the case has yet to be decided, the fact that Wunder was tackled by an OSU football coach — former linebacker and current assistant strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel — instead of a police or security officer could potentially mean legal repercussions.
Last Monday, OSU football coach Urban Meyer said he had a somewhat-serious conversation with Schlegel about the incident. Though he said he hadn’t seen the video, Meyer also said the team took the incident lightly.
“We had a lot of fun in here with that,” Meyer said. “They love Schlegel, as we all do. I do. He’s an incredible person.”
Schlegel has since turned down a request for an interview with The Lantern.
What should have happened?
“There’s no specific protocol, but we are there to enforce the rules of the stadium,” said Captain Eric Whiteside of University Police, about the procedures to be taken when a fan enters the playing field of a sporting event.
While “there’s no protocol saying if this happens, thou shall do this,” the police officers present are at the discretion of the athletic department to maintain security, he said.
As for who is responsible to take control in a situation such as fan coming onto a field or a person jumping on the stage at a concert, Whiteside said there are other people besides police who help provide security as well, including security personnel and event staff.
Whiteside said he could not disclose how many police officers are present during games at Ohio Stadium because it’s “sensitive information” that they (police) do not typically release.
However, he did confirm that police officers are present on the actual football field.
What legal action could be taken?
Wunder has already been charged for trespassing onto the field, but there could perhaps be legal measures taken on his behalf as well.
As of Wednesday, Wunder’s attorney, Mark Collins, said it wasn’t clear if Wunder would take legal action against Schlegel.
“My focus is to resolve the criminal case and then whatever route he chooses,” Collins said.
There are two ways to look at this situation from a legal standpoint, said Ric Simmons, a professor at OSU’s Moritz College of Law.
“From a criminal law perspective, (Schlegel) is clearly not authorized to make an arrest.” Simmons said. “The person was committing a misdemeanor, not a felony. It’s not his job to potentially stop crime as it was for the security guards or for the police.” He added that a citizen doesn’t necessarily have the same defenses as police officers. “If the police officer had used force making the arrest, the police officer has a defense. A security guard has a defense,” Simmons said.
“There’s just no real defense that (Schlegel) was there to potentially enforce the law,” Simmons said.
The other way of looking at it would be from a tort law perspective — whether Wunder could sue Schlegel for using excessive force, Simmons said.
“The question there is simply, were his actions reasonable in the circumstances?” Simmons said. “That’s going to be up to a jury to decide.”
Without knowing all the facts of the case, Simmons said he could not predict what the outcome of a potential trial would be. However, he said one of the factors discussed would probably be whether Wunder would have gotten away if Schlegel hadn’t taken action, which Simmons said “seems unlikely.”
A jury would also probably discuss how much force was actually applied, Simmons said. Although Simmons said he thought it looked like “a pretty hard hit,” it’s difficult to say because Wunder was not severely injured, so it could have looked more forceful that it actually was.
The video of the incident has since gone viral, with more than 7 million views on Lantern TV’s YouTube video as of Sunday evening.
Simmons said the fact that the incident was caught on video would hopefully help the case from the court’s perspective, because the jury won’t have to just rely on descriptions or re-enactments of what happened.
“Whether that will help one side or another, in this case, I don’t know. It depends on what the jury thinks about it, but I think they will have a better idea of what actually happened based on the fact that there was a video of it,” Simmons said.
The Office of Legal Affairs has a website dedicated to information regarding lawsuits filed against university employees. It details what an employee has to do to be sued individually.
“The Court of Claims statute requires that for a university employee to be sued individually in state court that the employee must either have: (a) acted outside the scope of their university duties, or (b) acted with malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton or reckless manner,” the website states.
From his understanding, Simmons said he did not think Schlegel was acting within his university duties.
“There are people employed to deal with that kind of situation,” he said.
Similar situations in the past
Fans have entered the field at Ohio Stadium in mass after several games in the past to celebrate with the team, but Whiteside said there haven’t been recent instances involving a single person.
“In terms of someone in the middle of the game running across the center of the field, I think it’s been probably about two decades since that’s happened before, or at least I don’t have any knowledge of that happening in recent time,” he said.
Although a fan has not been charged with trespassing onto the field at OSU recently, one was charged in Auburn, Ala., last season after the Iron Bowl game between Auburn and Alabama, according to AL.com, an Alabama news site.
The fan, Britt Thomas, was found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct, but a charge of criminal trespassing was dropped, AL.com said.
In this case, other fans did rush the field following the win, but Thomas was instructed to go back in the stands by a deputy.
“Thomas said a deputy hurt him, causing abrasions from his armpit to pelvic area. He was also pinned to the ground and Thomas said five deputies refused to provide him medical treatment,” the article said.
Thomas’s attorney, Julian McPhillips, claimed the deputies used excessive force when attempting to detain Thomas, the article said.
As for Wunder’s case, Simmons said it remains to be seen what will happen.
“A lot of it is going to come down to the facts of how hard was that hit and, at that point, whether or not it was reasonable to do that under the circumstances,” Simmons said.