By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun
8:23 PM EDT, June 17, 2013
A man charged with critically injuring a spectator at an Orioles game contends he was defending himself during an altercation, his lawyer said, citing information in a police report that raises "questions over who was the true aggressor."
Jeremy Eldridge, a defense attorney for 22-year-old Gregory Fleischman of Edgewater, noted that police said the injured man, Matthew Fortese, 25, of Hagerstown, had scaled a 5-foot-high wall and reached over a railing when he was struck and fell backward.
Fortese hit his head and ended up in the intensive care unit at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. His family said Monday that, after slipping into critical condition at one point, he has been released to in-patient rehabilitation but has a long and uncertain recovery ahead.
Fleischman has been charged with first- and second-degree assault and disorderly conduct; a second man, Michael David Bell, 21, of Annapolis, has been charged with two counts of second-degree assault and disorderly conduct. Both are free on bond. Bell's attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The case drew national attention and questions about spectator behavior at sporting events. But Eldridge said accounts of the incident so far have been distorted and that there is "another side of the story." He reiterated that Fleischman, like Fortese, is a Yankees fan. Fortese's date that night said the couple was teased because Fortese was wearing a New York cap.
"When you have events like this, the public is looking for someone to be accountable," Eldridge said. "Unfortunately, in this situation, the facts just don't bear that out right now."
Fortese's family appeared at a news conference Monday afternoon to update the public on his condition and publicly thank his surgeon, Dr. Jason Pasley, while asking for more witnesses to come forward. They have established a tip line at 410-605-2976.
Andrew Alperstein, an attorney working with Fortese's family, said there was "no evidence to indicate he did anything to legally justify what happened.
"This man could have died. He's not out of the woods," Alperstein said. "It's unbelievable that someone could be so hurt by going to a ballgame."
Fortese was at the Orioles' May 29 game against the Washington Nationals with his date when Fleischman and Bell allegedly began throwing things at them, a situation that escalated to a beer's being thrown on Fortese. Police said that Fortese climbed the railing to argue when Flesichman punched him in the head.
Fortese was knocked unconscious and stopped breathing. An off-duty Maryland state trooper, Nathan Steelman, rushed over to render aid to Fortese, who was bleeding from the head, nose and ears. Police said that while Steelman was working to revive Fortese, Fleischman and Bell repeatedly spat on them.
A video posted to YouTube, allegedly in the aftermath of the assault, shows Fleischman and Bell being handcuffed, with one man off-camera saying that both men had spat on Fortese. Alperstein said at the news conference that the video "speaks for itself," though Eldridge said it does not depict the behavior described.
Another attorney representing the Fortese family, Erin K. Voss, said the case has raised awareness of fan violence at sporting events. Though the attorneys did not criticize the Orioles or Camden Yards security policies, Voss said she would like to see "teams and fans coming together" to address violence.
The Fortese family said they have heard from well-wishers across the country asking how they can help. Matthew Fortese will have "months, maybe years of rehab," his brother, Jimmy Fortese, said.
"This assault has turned our lives upside down," Jimmy said, noting that he will be marrying his fiancee in two months and Matthew is his best man. "He should be working on his [best man] speech, not relearning how to talk."
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