By CHRISTOPHER WEBER, Associated Press
A California woman was criminally charged Thursday after authorities said she told her basketball athlete daughter to “hit her” before the girl punched an opposing player in the head during a game.
The punch was allegedly thrown last month as two club teams played during a tournament in Garden Grove.
Latira Shonty Hunt was caught on cell phone video yelling “You better hit her for that” after her daughter fell to the ground on a previous play involving the victim, said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
The blow crumpled the 15-year-old victim “to the floor like a rag doll,” Spitzer said. The girl suffered a concussion, according to her family’s lawyer.
Hunt, 44, is charged with two misdemeanors: contributing to the delinquency of a minor and battery. She faces up to a year in jail if convicted, Spitzer said. Contact information for Hunt could not be found and it wasn’t immediately known if she has an attorney who could speak on her behalf
“In my opinion it would have not happened, but for mom’s words,” Spitzer said of the attack. He said Hunt’s words “were the catalyst” that caused her daughter “to even think about” punching the other girl.
Youth sports in America are replete with examples of parents acting badly at games. Usually it involves taunts or other harsh language, often directed at officials.
Viral videos periodically emerge of fathers or mothers charging onto playing fields or courts and assaulting referees, coaches or players. While those cases can bring charges, legal experts said it is very rare for a parent’s comment from the stands to produce a criminal case.
Richard Kaplan, a Los Angeles defense attorney not involved with this case, called the charges against Hunt “a stretch.”
Kaplan predicted that it will be difficult for prosecutors to prove that Hunt’s outburst was a command and not just “an emotional response in a heated moment.”
The girl who threw the punch is the daughter of former NBA player Corey Benjamin, who issued an apology shortly after he saw the video of the game. His pro career included stints with the Chicago Bulls, the Atlanta Hawks and overseas teams.
“As a father, I’m shocked and disappointed at my daughter’s behavior as this is not a reflection of the values and standards that my family holds. Nor does it exemplify the values, character and spirit of sportsmanship that the game of basketball requires,” Benjamin said in a statement at the time.
The alleged victim’s lawyer, Kevin Hahn, said the family is “pleased with the DA’s decision to charge the mother. We think it’s warranted given the facts.”
Spitzer said the punch came following a physical turnover play during which Hunt’s daughter tried to block a shot and the other girl fell to the ground after attempting to score.
“The ball now has changed hands and they’re going back to the other basket,” Spitzer said, and that’s when he said Hunt encouraged her daughter to hit the other girl.
Spitzer added that he is the parent of two student-athletes and has witnessed plenty parents yelling and screaming from the stands, but not to the point of instigating an attack.
“I’ve never seen a parent encourage another child who is competing against my kid or any other player to engage in violence,” he said.
If prosecutors are unable to prove that Hunt has a history of similar behavior, Kaplan said a judge might choose to dismiss the case and order Hunt into a diversion program, such as anger management classes.
“Obviously it was an inappropriate thing to say, but was it really intended to cause harm?” Kaplan asked.