China Sentences US Football Coach To Four Years In Prison Over Bar Fight

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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A Chinese court sentenced a U.S. football coach to four years in prison Thursday.

Detroit native and former linebacker for Ball State University Wendell Brown played for the Canadian Football League’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Austria’s Swarco Raiders before he moved to China, where he coached the Chongqing Dockers, according to NPR. He was arrested on September 2016 on assault charges after he “allegedly punched a Chinese man after the man, who was drunk, threw a glass bottle at him at a bar.” The Chinese man, who was severely injured in the fight, was reportedly upset that Brown would not party with them.

The Chinese national involved in the fight lost an eye and demanded $100,000 in restitution. Brown’s mother Antoinette Brown called the situation a “clear shakedown,” saying, “It was all about the money.”

Brown argues that his actions were in self-defense, claiming that others initiated the physical altercation, and he fully intends to appeal, Brown’s lawyer Wu Junmei told the Associated Press. Brown was tried last year, but it took one year for the verdict to be announced. He has already spent 20 months in a Chinese prison for his alleged crimes.

The detained coach’s case was overshadowed last fall by the release of three University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) basketball players arrested for shoplifting in China. President Donald Trump personally intervened on their behalf during his first state visit to China in November, raising the issue in negotiations with Chinese President Xi Jinping. (RELATED: Trump Intervenes On Behalf Of Three UCLA Basketball Players Arrested In China)

The three UCLA players were allowed to return home, but Brown’s case remained unresolved.

“I’ll thank him. If Trump lets us, if he helps Wendell, I won’t stop thanking him,” his mother told Yahoo Sports in November. “He helped get three basketball players who were guilty get out. I pray he’ll help get my innocent son out. And if he does, I’ll thank him and thank him and thank him.”

Brown’s mother has reportedly been working with the White House, as well as non-profit advocates, on her son’s case. Both the State Department and Michigan officials have raised the issue with their Chinese counterparts. The Trump administration has so far had a great deal of success when it comes to securing the release of American citizens locked up abroad, but uncertainty hangs over Brown’s situation. (RELATED: Here Are The 17 Prisoners Trump Has Freed Since He Took Office)

“We are aware of reports that Mr. Brown has been sentenced to four years,” a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing told the AP Thursday. “The Department of State takes seriously its duty to assist U.S. citizens abroad. We continue to closely follow his case.”

It is unclear if Brown will serve his full sentence, as China sometimes releases foreign nationals early. The currently tense state of U.S.-China relations may limit the possibility of a negotiated solution.

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