Why the SoFi Stadium altercation that left 49ers fan in coma could be tough to prosecute
A man was arrested on suspicion of felony assault in connection with the case, but legal experts say that could be difficult to prove.
Authorities in Inglewood this week scrambled to piece together a timeline of the violent parking lot altercation outside SoFi Stadium that left a San Francisco 49ers fan in a medically induced coma days before the city is set to host the Super Bowl.
Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts on Friday announced that Bryan Alexis Cifuentes-Rossell, 33, of Los Angeles had been arrested on suspicion of felony assault in connection with the incident.
The injured fan, 40-year-old Daniel Luna, was hospitalized after he was found bleeding in a stadium parking lot about half an hour into the Rams-49ers NFC championship showdown Sunday, authorities said.
The incident drew immediate and widespread comparisons to the brutal beating of San Francisco Giants fan and Capitola resident Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium in 2011.
But authorities and legal experts say that what happened at SoFi is different and in some ways more complicated than that case, with Butts on Friday indicating that Luna could have been the aggressor.
So far, the minutes leading up to the altercation are murky, and no videos have been made public.
According to Butts, investigators have reviewed footage that appears to show Luna first shoving Cifuentes-Rossell from behind. Cifuentes-Rossell then responded by pushing and striking Luna in the face, causing him to fall and hit his head.
“The reality is this was a … two-shove, one-punch altercation,” Butts said during a news conference Friday. “The greatest damage was done because he landed on the back of his head on the pavement.”
The Times asked several experts to weigh in on how the high-profile incident could play out.
Louis Shapiro, a prominent Los Angeles defense attorney, said Cifuentes-Rossell’s lawyer will probably start by getting “a clear forensic video that shows everything that happened, and interview everyone about what was said before the punch was thrown.”
According to Butts, the footage reviewed by investigators shows people mingling in the parking lot when Luna pushes the other man, who was wearing a yellow jersey believed to be a Rams jersey, from behind.
Police are investigating after Daniel Luna was found severely injured in the parking lot about half an hour into...
Luna was wearing a white jersey “that some think was a throwback 49ers jersey,” Butts said. Friends have confirmed that Luna is a 49ers fan.
The other man then pushed Luna and struck him in the face, Butts said. Luna fell to the ground and hit his head.
Shapiro expressed concern that the mayor was “saying on a prominent platform the defendant assaulted the victim” but noted that many factors could influence the case, including Luna’s blood-alcohol level, Cifuentes-Rossell’s actions after the punch, and whether any verbal threats were made between the men.
Still, Cifuentes-Rossell’s lawyers are likely to argue that “the grave outcome here was not a foreseeable event from the one punch,” he said.
His biggest problem could be his actions afterward.
“The problem is he fled the scene after. If he’d stayed and gotten help for the guy, that isn’t going to be as problematic,” Shapiro said.
According to Butts, police traced Cifuentes-Rossell‘s address from the license plate of a car captured on surveillance video inside the stadium lot. Police left contact information at his home.
Cifuentes-Rossell later contacted police but declined to come to the department to be interviewed, Butts said. Officers then went to his workplace in Montebello, and he “voluntarily accompanied them to the Inglewood Police Department” and was taken into custody.
Luna, who was taken to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center on Sunday after being found bleeding in the stadium parking lot, remains in the coma. Should he die, Shapiro said, the case would probably become one of voluntary manslaughter.
Butts would not say whether Luna would also face charges for the altercation, noting “that would be up to the district attorney’s office.”
“They will look at the totality of the circumstances, and they will make their decision,” he said, adding that it doesn’t appear from the video footage that anyone else was involved in the altercation.
Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, said Friday that no charges had been filed and did not respond to a question about whether Luna could face charges as well.
Butts said Cifuentes-Rossell’s arrest was tied to “assault by a means to produce great bodily injury.” According to the California penal code, such a conviction could result in several years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Cifuentes-Rossell was released in lieu of $30,000 bail at 1 a.m. Friday, Butts said. It was not immediately clear whether he has obtained legal representation, and attempts to reach him Friday were unsuccessful.
Lara Yeretsian, a criminal defense attorney who has represented high-profile clients, including convicted killer Scott Peterson, said she believed Luna was technically the aggressor, and the amount of force used by Cifuentes-Rossell “is not out of proportion.”
It took three days and an inquiry from The Times before authorities in Inglewood confirmed the SoFi Stadium incident...
“As horrible as it sounds, a good lawyer will argue this is a fluke thing,” she said. “As his defense attorney, I would say he was not overdoing it by delivering one punch. Law enforcement often decides whoever has the most injuries is the victim, and that is not the law.”
Also under scrutiny is SoFi itself. Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the stadium said some parts of the lots don’t have full camera coverage. Most of the security is focused inside and immediately around the stadium, and the parking lots are left to people directing traffic, they said.
Those sources said the stadium has been encouraged to bring in more L.A. County sheriff’s deputies to supplement security after internal concerns arose that there was not enough law enforcement to police often drunk and angry fans. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said last week that he has assigned 380 personnel to the Super Bowl.
David Lira, a member of the legal team that represented Stow after the 2011 beating at Dodger Stadium, said rivalry games often draw fans with intense pride and high emotions, and that it’s essential for stadiums to have robust security plans in place.
“They knew a rival team was coming into town,” Lira said. “They should have adjusted their security plan for this particular game. It’s a real recipe for disaster, unless you have the proper protocols in place.”
Even inside the stadium, videos have emerged in recent months showing fights between fans.
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani said the incident at SoFi had echoes of what happened to Stow at Dodger Stadium.
In that case, Louie Sanchez pleaded guilty to a felony count of mayhem and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Marvin Norwood pleaded guilty to assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury and was sentenced to four years behind bars.
But prosecutors in the case had evidence that the pair delivered several blows to Stow, including full “wind-up kicks” to Stow’s head that resulted in a brain injury, Rahmani said.
“Prosecutors [in the SoFi incident] are very limited here in what they can allege, and they expect to face a defense built around self-defense and that it wasn’t the accused’s intent to cause great bodily injury,” Rahmani said.
Butts said it was inaccurate to liken the incident at SoFi to what happened to Stow.
“The situation in Dodger Stadium is nowhere comparable to this,” he said, “and to be blunt about it, it looked like a small altercation that went very bad …. It wasn’t like you had people ganging up on somebody and beating them.”
The mayor also said a security guard called paramedics very shortly after the altercation. He said he was not concerned about security at SoFi Stadium.
“I’m very comfortable there was sufficient security,” Butts said. “You’re not going to stop every altercation and argument that occurs between fans. It’s just not going to happen.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.