A mixed-martial artist fighter pleaded not guilty Friday to assaulting another MMA competitor at a gathering at the Anaheim Convention Center last December.
Ralph Gracie, 48, of Danville, was indicted Sept. 18 by a grand jury that charged him with a felony count of assault, with an enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury. Gracie, who is free after posting $50,000 bail, was ordered to return to court Nov. 19 for a pretrial hearing at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.
Court records indicate that Gracie had been poised to enter into a plea deal in which defense attorney Harley Breite asked Orange County Superior Court Judge Roger B. Robbins to sentence his client to no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor.
Deputy District Attorney Matthew Plunkett argued in a motion for a felony conviction for Gracie and a year in jail, according to court records.
Breite did not immediately respond to a message requesting comment.
A fugitive warrant had been issued for Gracie in August when he failed to show for a court hearing, but his attorney said his client was in Rio De Janeiro caring for his ailing 84-year-old father, who lapsed into a coma after falling and striking his head.
Gracie was indicted two days after he appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and denied a sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a query about whether prosecutors sought an indictment because they objected to the proposed plea deal. Prosecutors have been critical of Robbins in other recent plea bargains.
Co-defendant Lincoln Pereira, a student of Gracie’s, accepted a plea deal from Robbins in July over the objections of prosecutors. Robbins reduced a felony assault to a misdemeanor and sentenced Pereira to the time he had credit for serving in jail — 80 days.
They were accused of attacking Flavio Almeida, a five-time world champion in the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation, while they 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 wrote 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.”
Gracie feels “tremendous remorse” for attacking Almeida, a longtime friend, the attorney said, adding that the conflict has become a source of “great embarrassment” to Gracie within his industry and within his extended family and friends.
Gracie, who has been indefinitely suspended by the federation, 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 operated by Gracie 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.
An infuriated Gracie elbowed Almeida in the face, and as he fell unconscious, kicked the victim in the head, prosecutors allege. Pereira then joined the fight.
Almeida told the judge 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.