Dragovic's Attorney Answers Questions

Jon Artz, Nikola Dragovic's attorney, answered questions about the felony charges against the senior forward after an appearance in court Monday, supplying details about the incident...

Opening statement:

‘'Hey, ladies and gentlemen, Jon Artz, attorney for Dragovic and Stanicek. We were in court today and entered a not guilty plea on behalf of both defendants. The court set the matter for preliminary hearing setting, and of course as you know since it's a felony, it goes by way of preliminary hearing, and that's the same reason that the defendants were both present. For felonies, they are required to be present, absent a waiver of presence. The preliminary hearing setting is set for Feb. 1 in Dept. 32. I anticipate on that date in time we'll pick a date, we being the D.A.'s office and myself and the court, pick a date to hold a preliminary hearing. I cannot tell you when that will be and as most of you probably know, a preliminary hearing is simply a probable cause hearing. Ordinarily, the defense does not present evidence. In this case, there's a slim possibility that we will and the only reason for that is as we're developing evidence in comes out the alleged victim, I call him the aggressor, he admitted to my investigator that he was drunk, that upstairs on the third floor he was jealous. He interpreted the conduct of Stanicek as hitting on his girlfriend. He told Stanicek to fuck off and he pushed him away and then he slapped him hard across the face. Dragovic came over to him, didn't throw a punch, didn't physically assault him, simply came over and tried to hold him and said, ‘Hey, that's my friend, what are you doing?' And, after that, the aggressor started cursing, he says, he told my investigator that he was drunk. He told, he stated in Serbian, which in that language these things are considered quite serious, in Serbia people die on street corners due to robberies and knife slashings on a regular basis, and this so called victim started cursing and saying, ‘I don't give a damn, I'll eat those guys for breakfast, I can bury them, and I'm going to cut them' and whatever he was saying. But it wasn't pretty, it wasn't pleasant and it was taken very serious. And as Dragovic went down the stairs somebody said to him, ‘Hey, that guy is a bad guy and you've got to be careful of him.' Dragovic and Stanicek went down two flights, from the third floor, where this VIP party was at the Ford Theatre, to the second floor to the first floor and were waiting for their car. As they're waiting outside, this aggressor came out and said, ‘Hey, there you are' or ‘Hey, there you are, come on …' or whatever he said. And that got Dragovic's attention and Dragovic did charge him reasonable being in fear for his own safety. According to the victim/aggressor, he described it as being tackled and that Dragovic wrapped around him. Dragovic did not throw a punch and then Dragovic as he was just trying to hold him down said to others, ‘Nobody hit him, nobody hit him.' Dragovic didn't throw any punches – this is from the alleged victim. As time goes on we're going to find out more and more, but we look forward to the process resolving itself and as it stands now, it looks like this case will go to trial.''

During the discovery process, have you received anything yet?

‘'Yes, this morning we were able to get the arrest report and, you know, the arrest reports and what I just told you basically agree. I mean, there's a few spins as to what happened, but the arrest reports indicate same time, place, event, Ford Theatre, up on the third floor. Both parties, of course, went to the police. The police bought into the victim's version that he first made, which was somehow that, you know, he didn't mention the upstairs too much, but he mentioned the downstairs. But both reports, both made by Dragovic and his roommate Stanicek, and by the aggressor/victim all talk about the events as I've kind of worded them. It's just that the so called victim wasn't as forthcoming originally when he went to the police station about the background and the threats and that he was drunk and that he was jealous. So, anyhow, yes, I have reports. I'm looking forward to other discovery and I've talked to the deputy D.A., who is really a nice guy, and ask him for any recorded statements or videos of whatever and presumably he's going to prepare them and I will get them and I look forward to seeing them.''

You talk about the altercation being on the third floor, but then you say Dragovic tackled him on the first floor?

‘'Yes, Dragovic and his roommate Stanicek were leaving the Ford Theatre. They wanted to leave and they had walked down two flights of stairs and at this point the only thing that has gone on is that the alleged victim has slapped Stanicek and has threatened both Dragovic and Stanicek in Serbian. So, Dragovic and Stanicek leave the area, go down two flights, pass the second floor, down to the first floor and out the door. They're standing outside. They are not aggressors. They don't want any trouble. Now this guy comes out the door and says, ‘Hey, there you are …' And Dragovic sees him and someone had said to Dragovic on the way down, ‘Hey be careful of that guy, that guy is a bad guy,' or whatever the words were. Dragovic sees him and hears the words, ‘There you are …' and Dragovic tackled him. He doesn't hit him. Unfortunately, by way of tackling him, the other man did go backwards and did go into the glass that was on the wall and the glass broke and as a result of that the other man has a cut apparently – I haven't seen it. So that's how the facts are going to play out.''

So Dragovivc did not respond at all on the third floor?

‘'No, except to come over to him, as the alleged victim says, and say to him, ‘Why are you doing this? Why are you slapping my friend? You should do that,' or words to that effect. But Dragovic did not come over and assault him. Dragovic did come over and ask him, ‘Why are you slapping my friend? Or, ‘What's going on?' Or, something to that effect, and then after that is when the alleged victim began cursing and threatening and Dragovic and Stanicek said, ‘Hey, let's get out of Dodge.' ‘'

If this case is still scheduled to go to trial, do you think it gets there?

‘'I don't know. And the reason I say it like this, is I would think that since I'm making sounds about what this victim is going to say, that if I were the other side I would say, ‘Hmm, maybe I should talk to this victim. Maybe I should evaluate this case more carefully.' Certainly Dragovic and Stanicek are not going to plead guilty to anything. I believe this is reasonable self defense.''

What would reasonable self defense mean?

‘'Well, if you have a reasonable belief that you or someone that you care about is going to be harmed, you are entitled to defend against that. So, in this case, if you believe that someone is an aggressor and has threatened you and said I'm going to eat you for breakfast, I'm going to cut your throat, I'm going to bury you, and then this person comes down after you after you have left the area and you see him coming out the door and you tackle him, that in my opinion is reasonable self defense.''

You said somebody told Dragovic that this is a bad guy. Have you spoken to that witness?

‘'No, and I don't know that I will be able to because it was somebody that came out of the crowd. These are all Serbians who were attending a Serbian rock concert. And, you know, in the Serbian world, which I'm not part of, you know, some people know some people who know other people so I'm not sure that we'll be able to get that witness. But maybe we can, I don't know.''

Do you feel the district attorney's office is a little less confidence in some of their evidence than they were before?

‘'Oh, no, I can't speak for them. I think that at some prior time they said they reviewed the evidence. I think what their position is, and I'm guessing now, just because I'm an attorney of 37 years, I think what they're banking on is the fact that they believe Dragovic charged this guy and tackled him. I think that's what they think. And then I haven't seen some video tape, and I asked for it today, that supposedly shows someone, not Dragovic, but someone either punching or kicking at the alleged victim when he's on the ground. So, I think the D.A. relies upon that as saying, ‘Oh, look, you know, that's unreasonable.' But, whatever.''

So you're not representing the roommate?

‘'I am at the present time, but once we go further down the litigation path, he's going to need his own attorney and when that will be I don't know. It might or might not be at the time of the preliminary hearing.''

So, realistically, how long do you expect this whole process to drag out?

‘'When you use the word drag … the word drag kind of has a connotation to it. The legal process itself in most cases takes from the arraignment date to the date of trial itself takes anywhere from six months to two years, so I would anticipate that this case will follow that pattern and I can't predict if there is going to be a trial when that trial would be. But it would seem reasonable to me that the trial would be sometime in the summer at the earliest. You know, stranger things have happened.''

We asked this question last time, but what would you say to people who question UCLA allowing him to play while this is continuing?

"Well, I would say the same thing to anybody, whether, you know, it's somebody working for a big corporation … I want to remind everybody, even me, and I'm been a defense guy for 37 years, when I heard about the Duke basketball players and the drinking and the fraternity and the stripper and then she claimed that she was raped, I said, ‘You know, something went wrong there' and I condemned those guys and the D.A. pushed that case – and I'm not going to claim that the D.A. in this case is doing anything wrong; I really like Cooley, I think he's a great D.A. – but the prosecutor in that case pushed that case and pushed that case and wouldn't look at the evidence and as it turned out it was terribly wrong for those Duke lacrosse players who were wrongfully accused. So I would say to anybody whether it's the UCLA fans or the dean of the school or you, I'd say, ‘Hey, let the process work out.' You know, this was a scene where there's a lot of Serbians, there's rock ‘n roll, there's a lot of alcohol, the so-called victim has now admitted to being drunk and being jealous and cursing and so forth. I would suggest, ‘Hey, look, we have a very fair system. We're blessed. This is the greatest system in the world to try to determine whether someone is guilty of a crime, and there's a presumption of innocence. And I would suggest to anybody, ‘Let's have the system play out. Don't penalize someone because someone has made an accusation. I would say that he's entitled to the full benefits of citizenship and that includes in this case playing basketball.''

In the case that Nikola does eventually have a career in basketball, perhaps out of the country, how do you expect this case to have a bearing on that? Is he stuck in the United States until it is resolved?

‘'Well, I think he is. I haven't crossed that bridge. But let's say that the trial is set whenever. I'll make up a hypothetical of October, and let's say that he wanted to play ball in Europe prior to that time. I would assume that the judge if show good cause would allow him to do so, and then he would fly back for the trial. But, you know, I really don't know, and, you know, I would suggest to anybody in that regard, too, first of all he has to start making some 3-point shots or he's never going to play again. But aside from that I would think the court would work with him, as they do anybody else, to allow them to 3earn a living and to cooperate with the courts. I don't anticipate that being a problem.''

When you talk about these statements being made, and you quote the aggressor as you call him, are these statements that are in the report or through your investigators? Where are these statements coming from?

‘'That's a great question. Most of these statements that I'm making about the aggressor that put him in an aggressive light come from statements made by him, tape recorded, through my investigator. Now, some of them are very consistent with the story he first told the police – dates, times, places and so forth. But, you know, most of them about by example nothing is in the report that he was drunk, but that's what he told my investigator.''

Were Stanicek and Nikola part of a bigger group? You said there were a lot of Serbians, did they all come together or was it just the two of them and another person got involved in a beef?

‘'Well, I think Dragovic was there with his roommate Stanicek and I believe maybe, and I don't know the answer to that so I'm not going to speculate, but I think there was either two or four others that had come in two different cars. Eventually, because Dragovic wanted to leave that area, as he did before this guy came out in a manner that Dragovic interpreted as threatening, I think Dragovic and Stanicek took a cab but they were waiting for a car. I believe there were two cars, but I don't know. What I do know is that most of the people at this party were all of Serbian decent, as was the group. I think it wasn't just the Dragovic party, I think it was most people who were there that night.''

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