Conor McGregor: Like an Elvis in handcuffs at Brooklyn courthouse

Trial date set following UFC star’s outburst but the real fun could be in the civil courts

Irish MMA star Conor McGregor has been freed on $50,000 bail after appearing in a New York City courtroom on charges of assault stemming from a melee following a press event for a series of UFC fights to be staged in Brooklyn. Video: Reuters

 

Noon is approaching at Brooklyn’s courthouse and Justice Connie Malfiore Melendez is going about her business.

A gaunt looking middle-aged man in handcuffs is led into her courtroom. He pleads guilty to possession of crack cocaine. But before accepting his plea, the judge cautions him that it is a felony which could affect his immigration status in the future.

The man again says he wants to plead guilty, and the judge tells him he is sentenced to time served and is free to go. He retrieves his belongings, including his belt, from a padded envelope held by the bailiff and walks out of the courtroom holding his belongings in one hand and keeping his trousers up with the other.

Then there is a lull as lawyers, journalists and mixed martial arts fans wait patiently. Outside the court there is a media circus going on as television cameras gather and people ask if Irish UFC fighter Conor McGregor is in the building.

Back inside you hear, again and again, the refrain, “Conor is in the building”.

Like Elvis?

“Exactly like Elvis,” says one of his fans, Kaamaran Riizvi.

Indeed McGregor has arrived, charged with three counts of assault and one count of criminal mischief following an incident at the city’s Barclay’s Centre the previous evening.

Footage from the aftermath of a UFC media event appeared to show McGregor and his entourage using a metal barricade and other objects to smash windows on a bus filled with fighters departing from the venue.

A lawyer, who is in court on a secret project, says he will tell me anything I want to know about the legal process, so long as he was never there. We wonder about McGregor’s immigration status, and what the previous day’s events could mean for the fighter in future.

The lawyer says McGregor’s defence will plead criminal mischief down to a misdemeanour. The real fun, he says, could be in the civil courts with many on the bus likely sue. He says that could take years and, of course, that he was never here to tell me as much.

The lull goes on for more than an hour. The court is filling up and there is some excitement mounting.

Laughing

A laughing police officer moves through the room carrying a gun, stab vests, and a shiny pair of shackles. More defendants come and go. A woman is told to refrain from any contact with her ex-boyfriend, not to contact him electronically in any way either on social media or by phone, if she does so she will be re arrested.

Suddenly, the McGregor fans get a little excited when Dillon Dannis, a sparring partner of his, enters the court. But then the bailiff announces it is time for lunch and court will be back in session at 2.15pm.

Everybody groans.

I stick around the court, afraid of losing my spot. The lobby is filling up as people figure out that the McGregor is in the building, as are his lawyers. I ask Dannis if he would like to talk to The Irish Times but he says he has been told not to talk to anyone.

Bail bondsman Ira Judelson then explains that he and the legal team have negotiated a bail package for McGregor and fellow Dublin fighter Cian Cowley. He expects the arraignment to take place at 2.30pm.

Back in the courtroom there are no spare seats. A young McGregor fan, Noah Ellis from Westchester, sits beside me shaking with nervous energy. Cases for driving without a licence, drunk and disorderly and the like continue to play out.

A young woman says she has called an ambulance because she believes she is having a miscarriage, she is released and asked to come back to court another time. She stumbles out of the court, assisted by two paramedics, and is oblivious to the drama.

There is another lull and much speculation among the press, none of it printable. I’m asked: “What do the Irish people make of him? Do they admire him? Is he liked?”

I answer as best I can.

MMA fighter Cian Cowley (left) a friend of Ultimate fighting star Conor McGregor, stands with lawyer John Arlia during McGregor’s arraignment in Brooklyn. Photograph: Getty Images
MMA fighter Cian Cowley (left) a friend of Ultimate fighting star Conor McGregor, stands with lawyer John Arlia during McGregor’s arraignment in Brooklyn. Photograph: Getty Images

The bailiff approaches the press gallery. The judge will allow one photographer and one videographer to record proceedings. Noah tries to get his attention. He puts his hand up and asks the bailiff if it is ok to cheer or encourage McGregor when he appears.

“It is not, and don’t use your phone to take a picture as it will be confiscated,” he is told.

The lawyers and the bail bondsman huddle by the rail separating the public from the court staff and legal counsel.

McGregor’s lawyer is Jim Walden, who previously served in the justice department under Bush and Clinton. He wears a beautiful blue suit with a kind of a quilted body warmer as a waistcoat, and, continuing the Elvis theme, blue suede shoes.

Counsel approaches the bench to object to the cameras in the room. The judge listens earnestly, there are a few jokes, but the cameras remain. The excitement is mounting in the court and the bailiff asks for quiet as some last minute legal wrangling takes place behind the scenes.

Then the moment people have been waiting for, McGregor and Cowley enter in handcuffs.

Ramrod poise

McGregor with ramrod poise in spite of the cuffs intently scans the crowd. Cowley keeps gaze down. They awkwardly brush past each other when asked to sit. Their counsel stands behind them and the charges are listed.

When read in a courtroom they sound serious. Throwing chairs at a bus, injuring passengers inside. A prosecutor in a pink bow tie reads them all, stating that it has all been recorded on surveillance video. He itemises the injuries to the passengers and to security personnel.

The judge looks at the prosecutor and glances at the accused every now and then, betraying no emotion, suggesting she has heard worse in her time.

The judge reads an order of protection similar to the one I heard earlier instructing a young woman to stay away from her boyfriend or to risk arrest. This time they are the names of UFC fighters: Michael Chiesa, Ozzy Arias, Ray Borg, Ricardo Chico. She tells the defence not to contact them electronically or by any other means and warns that if they do, they will be rearrested.

Bail is set at $50,000 for McGregor and $25,000 for Cian Cowley. They get to keep their passports but must report to bail bondsman Judleson once a week by phone.

Then Mr Blue Suede Shoes gets his moment. Walden agrees to the terms of bail saying his client has the most visible face on the planet and will honour the commitment. Cowley’s lawyer also agreed to bail.

When they tried to set a trial date of June 7th, Cowley had to intervene as he had a fight scheduled on that date. The trial date was moved to June 14th.

As they went to the back of the courthouse through the door they entered, McGregor turned and looked around the court once more, his blue eyes burning. We waited for them to emerge into the chaos of the lobby where about 40 photographers had been all day.

Then out into the chaotic scrum of photographers and fans on the street, McGregor bundled through the melee into a white SUV. Like Elvis, McGregor and his lawyer in blue suede shoes had left the building.