A Staten Island, NY man has been charged with third-degree aggravated assault and fourth-degree assault at a youth sporting event for the violent attack of a 72-year-old baseball umpire during a game June 4 in Branchburg.
Jerry Otero, 40, a coach from the Staten Island-based New York Prospects travel team, was arrested Tuesday by Branchburg police and charged for the attack.
The assault occurred during a 13-and-under US Amateur Baseball League tournament game earlier this month and left the umpire with a broken jaw that required extensive dental surgery.
Acting Somerset County Prosecutor Annmarie Taggart said Branchburg police were dispatched to White Oak Park in Branchburg around 8:08 pm on June 4 for a report of an assault on an umpire. Upon arrival, officers found the umpire bleeding from the mouth. Bystanders told police the suspect had left the park prior to their arrival.
The umpire told officers that while officiating the game, he ejected one of the coaches for using foul language. The victim told the officers that the coach who was later identified as Otero then punched him on the left side of his face.
The umpire sustained a fractured jaw and concussion from being struck, according to a follow up investigation.
Otero turned himself into detectives at the Branchburg Township Police Department around 8:30 am Tuesday. He has been placed in the Somerset County Jail pending a detention hearing.
Both Otero and his team also have been banned from the USABL, one of the largest youth travel baseball leagues on the East Coast.
The umpire has not been identified by the league; he has declined multiple interview requests made through the USABL.
“The environment for youth sports has become toxic,” said Brian Delahant, the USABL president. “No one can lose a game anymore without blaming somebody else. We need to teach our kids that they’re not going to win every game they play and how to lose with respect for both their opponents as well as the officials on the game.”
The assault by Otero marked one of the latest violent outbursts to occur nationally as the intense focus on youth sports has formed a highly combustible and never-before-seen atmosphere of bad behavior across all levels of athletics, several experts said.
Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) introduced a bill in January that would upgrade certain types of assault against sports officials to aggravated assault, and Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Monmouth) said she is planning additional legislation that would strengthen penalties for assaulting an official and add harassment charges for spectators found to be verbally tormenting referees.
Codey’s bill is waiting to be assigned a hearing and committee, and Flynn said she is hoping to introduce her legislation this summer.
“What we’ve been doing to curb these bad acts obviously hasn’t been working and it’s time to put an end to it — to not only protect sports officials, but also kids who are caught in the middle,” Flynn told NJ AdvanceMedia. “This is one of the top complaints and concerns of constituents since my appointment in January, and it is time to address these issues and make sports safe and fun for kids and young athletes again.”
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