ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. The last time Tim McGraw came to this
Buffalo suburb, 50,000 fans packed a stadium to see him. On Monday, the
country music star will play to a much smaller audience six jurors.
McGraw, a Grammy winner and the husband of megawatt singer Faith Hill, goes on trial
for four misdemeanor charges stemming from a backstage scuffle with
sheriff's deputies that erupted when crooner Kenny Chesney commandeered a
police horse after a music festival last June. Chesney and McGraw's road
manager also face misdemeanors.
None of the charges is very serious McGraw, 34, faces a maximum of 1
year in jail and Chesney just 15 days and local authorities say such
counts are usually settled with plea negotiations and probation. But
according to his lawyer, McGraw is convinced he did nothing wrong and wants
an acquittal to preserve his squeaky-clean reputation.
"He takes it very seriously because he's very much a pro-law-and-order guy.
He has a lot riding on this...He has an image he's concerned about...I mean,
he's Father of the Year," attorney Thomas Eoannou said, referring to an
honor bestowed on McGraw last year for his charity work.
Local law enforcement, however, has been less than impressed with McGraw's
Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan claims the singer assaulted an officer
and then cavalierly joked about it during subsequent concert appearances and
"I am appalled by those who try to pass this incident off as a
misunderstanding, an overreaction or boys just having fun," Gallivan wrote
in a letter to the Buffalo News. "McGraw is not above the law. He is fully
responsible for his actions and, as the law requires must be held
accountable for them."
Were it not for the rhetoric from both sides, the case certainly would in all likelihood have never have seen the inside of a courtroom. County prosecutor Frank Clark describes the case
as "not even a pimple on an elephant's ass."
"Unfortunately sometimes egos get in the way," the prosecutor sighed
last week. "They both painted themselves in a corner the defense and
the sheriff's office and now neither can get out of it."
Still, Clark has assigned two assistant district attorneys to prosecute the
Chico and The Men
The trouble began June 3, 2000 at the George Strait Country Music Festival,
an all-day touring concert featuring McGraw, Chesney and several other acts.
Chesney and others who had finished their sets were hanging out in a
open-air area behind the stage reserved for the performers and their
Among the sheriff's officers monitoring the area was Capt. James Coyle of
the mounted division who was with his horse Chico. When he stepped away for
a moment at about 8 p.m., he left Chico with his daughter, Charlene.
During an appearance on the Tonight Show, Chesney told Jay Leno that he
spotted the horse and thought, "Now, wouldn't it be funny if I got on the
horse and rode into the bus compound, because Tim McGraw and Faith (Hill)
were up there with their kids, Martina McBride's kids were up there."
|McGraw and Hill|
According to the sheriff, Charlene gave permission to Chesney to sit on the
horse, but not to ride it and when he galloped away, she shouted after him
to stop. A pair of officers Sgt. Mark Rokitka and Deputy Art
Litzingerdrove a patrol car after him "kind of like Starsky and Hutch,"
The officers claim that they ordered Chesney down and he refused. When they
began pulling him off the horse, the sheriff's office maintains, McGraw and his
road manager Mark Russo interfered. McGraw is accused of grabbing
Litzinger's throat from behind and pulling him away from the horse. A
In a statement released through his lawyer, McGraw claimed that it was the
police who were a danger, not Chesney. He said he was leaving the stage when
he noticed the patrol car "going incredibly fast. My first thought was for
my children who were playing there."
He said that Chesney had his hands raised in a surrender gesture, but the
deputies continued to try to "rip" him from the horse.
"Fearing for Kenny's safety, I ran over to offer assistance," he said. "At
no time did I throw any punches or put anyone in anything remotely
resembling a choke hold."
He said that while one of the deputies was hitting him with a nightstick,
the second was admitting "this was all a misunderstanding."
McGraw was originally charged with felony assault, but that charge was
reduced. He now faces third-degree assault, obstruction of governmental
administration, resisting arrest and menacing.
Chesney faces a disorderly conduct charge and Russo obstructing governmental
administration and resisting arrest.
In the weeks after the incident, Chesney and McGraw joked about their
arrest. Chesney rode a horse onto the Tonight Show stage, and Hill
dressed as a police officer "arrested" her husband during a July
concert in Buffalo.
The songstress is expected to be by her husband's side in court. The defense
says it plans to call Chesney and McGraw and perhaps some other country
singers who witnessed the fracas.