A renowned mixed-martial artist fighter who allegedly attacked another MMA fighter at a gathering at the Anaheim Convention Center in December failed to appear in court Wednesday for his arraignment, prompting a judge to issue a fugitive warrant.
Over the objections of prosecutors, Orange County Superior Court Judge Roger B. Robbins put the warrant on hold until an Oct. 15 hearing for Ralph Gracie, 39, of Danville, in the North Justice Center in Fullerton.
Gracie's attorney, Harley Breite, in a court filing on Tuesday said his client was in Rio De Janeiro caring for his 84-year-old father, who lapsed into a coma after falling and hitting his head.
Gracie is charged with assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and faces a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury.
He is accused of attacking Flavio Almeida, a five-time world champion in the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, while the two were at an industry event Dec. 15 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"It is undisputed that my client, without lawful excuse or justification, struck the victim, knocking him to the ground and causing him injury," Breite said in the memorandum to Robbins.
"My client fully acknowledges that he should never have struck Mr. Almeida and he accepts full responsibility for doing so," Breite added.
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Gracie feels "tremendous remorse" for attacking his longtime friend, Almeida. He said the conflict has become a source of "great embarrassment" to Gracie within his industry and within his extended family and friends.
Gracie has been indefinitely suspended by the federation. Gracie lives in the San Francisco area with his wife and three children and has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Brazil.
Gracie is the half-brother of Renzo Gracie, another renowned Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Renzo Gracie mentored Almeida's brother since he was 16, Breite said. He also trained Flavio Almeida when he was 12.
Tension between Gracie and Almeida stemmed from Almeida's decision to open a training academy near one of Gracie's in northern California, Breite said.
Almeida did not respond to Gracie's messages and when Gracie attempted to discuss it with him at the federation's world championship fights in Anaheim in December Almeida rebuffed him, Breite said.
That infuriated Gracie who elbowed Almeida in the face, and as he fell unconscious Gracie kicked the victim in the head, prosecutors said. Co-defendant Lincoln Pereira, a student of Gracie's, jumped into the scrum, prosecutors said.
In July, Robbins reduced a felony assault charge on Pereira to a misdemeanor over the objection of prosecutors. Robbins sentenced Pereira Wednesday to the time he had credit for serving in jail -- 80 days.
Almeida lost two teeth in the attack, but Breite said they were dentures. Almeida told Robbins that he declined to retaliate and trusted the justice system instead.
"I resolved to trust the justice system to hold these individuals accountable for their premeditated and coordinated act of terrorism," Almeida said. "Qualifying this vicious attack as a misdemeanor means the bad guys win. They will once again get away with their threats and violent behavior, pounding on their chests for being above the law."
Almeida said it would send a "very confusing message" to Jiu-Jitsu students.
"When the criminal justice system fails to hold people accountable for committing violence, these elite mixed martial arts athletes have the training and the expertise to take the law into their own hands,'' said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer.
"The victim in this case made the decision to exercise restraint, to not take the law into his own hands, and trust that the criminal justice system will do what it is supposed to do -- hold people accountable for engaging in violence."