With a lackluster start to the week in the mixed martial arts world of news, I decided to check out the situation that had occurred in Florida involving Din Thomas. I had read about the arrest warrant being published on the Internet and decided to write this piece revolving around the arrest and the possibilities for Din in the case.
Din Thomas was arrested on October 30th for holding an unsanctioned mixed martial arts activity in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The official charge was for “prohibited competitions”, which is a felony in the state of Florida. In the article in the TCPalm, it is claimed that 2 fighters were battling it out in a cage with over 150 people watching. The charges were again summarized as being pushed onto Thomas because he was “promoting and selling tickets to an event without any regulation”. After checking out the investigative report that led to the arrest warrant being issued, some light has been opened up into the case that could potentially put Din Thomas in jail for up to 5 years. Let’s take a closer look into this case. The Facts
In order to get a fairly clear view of what occurred at the event that was held at an industrial warehouse in the Port Lucie area, we need to lay out the facts according to the report and to Din Thomas. Normally, the report would be fairly biased since the police are doing the investigation, but they did manage to sit in on an event and interview Thomas about what was going on prior to getting an arrest warrant. Let’s break it down:
- The event was held at an industrial warehouse in which Din Thomas rented space from a lady who rented the warehouse for a gymnastics school.
- According to Florida law, you must have an occupational license to hold gymnastics, mixed martial arts, karate, boxing, and other sports involving contact and the potential to be hurt. The license allows you to own a business that works with those types of physical activity that could have the potential for injury.
- There were 5 to 7 fights, all amateur bouts since the fighters were not paid.
- There was no head gear, small MMA gloves only, and no medical staff.
- There was a $10 raffle charged for a contest to win I-Pods and American Top Team merchandise.
- There were no weight classes for the fighters.
- The actual owner of the warehouse space had no knowledge of the events and the lady renting space out to Thomas had no knowledge that her occupational license didn’t cover Thomas, nor did it cover mixed martial arts.
- Mixed martial arts is not allowed in the state of Florida except in training.
These are most of the big facts that came from the report that led to the arrest of Din Thomas. On paper, the claims by the police look overwhelmingly bad to the average citizen who isn’t inclined to watching an MMA fight or seeing two guys stand toe-to-toe with each other in a warehouse. All of these facts look to have Thomas in a bind, but there seems to be some loopholes as well as a good amount of support for Thomas. I think there are two sides to this case and in my opinion, the possibility that Thomas could face at least a small charge are at about a 50% chance. For right now, it could go either way. I’m going to break down both sides of the argument and the way I see this thing going.
Thomas has some loopholes that he can exploit in this case. His lawyer, Corey Sucher, claims Thomas did not break the law that he is being charged with breaking. He states in another article at the TCPalm that the statute that claims the bouts were illegal is “extremely vague”. Mixed martial arts at any level is not allowed in the state of Florida, but the police are claiming that this was a professional event that was unsanctioned. Sucher asked the question “Does that mean people can’t train?”. This gave everyone the sense that these were sparring fights. Thomas confirmed this idea by stating the fights at the warehouse were the same exact bouts he holds at his gym, but were in order to get his fighters used to a crowd watching. Here’s a small list of discrepancies that Thomas may try to point at:
- In the arrest report, it is said that the doors to the warehouse were wide open, signage was up, raffle tickets in plain view, and the large cage in plain view to people coming up to the warehouse. It doesn’t seem as if Thomas was aware of the law or making any effort to conceal the fights. This leads me to believe he was unaware, probably making it better for him if he is convicted of receiving a light sentence. In retrospect, it also tells us that Thomas probably felt there was no law being broken.
- The fighters were not paid for their bouts. The raffle tickets were bought for $10 a piece in order to give away prizes and donate to the ATT team out of Port St. Lucie. To my knowledge, “professional” means you are being paid for those bouts. I’m wondering if Thomas’s lawyer can also bring in factors such as the fact that there were no fighters on a contract either.
- The TCPalm article mentioned that promoting the event was also a piece that went into the charges. Thomas mentioned that most of the crowd was friends and family and the rest was from word of mouth. Also, email and phone calls probably brought some people in. It seems that Thomas didn’t put any money into promoting the event at all.
- Other schools in Florida hold similar events with raffles and Thomas’s lawyer could leverage that support in court.
- Sucher makes a good point in stating that there isn’t a huge difference between “training” and an actual fight. These guys need experience and that is definitely the way it has been done in the past in a number of different places in the country and the world.
It’s obvious that Thomas’s lawyer will be looking to compare these events to sparring sessions. This is a fairly good argument, but may be a tough sell to a jury or judge that does not watch mixed martial arts or boxing and does not see a small event like this as a learning experience. The fact that Thomas didn’t pay the fighters helps his cause in a charge that relies on the “professional” aspect of the statute. On to the bad…
There were some bad moves by Thomas and company that were mentioned on the report as well that bode badly for his case. The most notable involved the fact that there weren’t any medical staff in attendance at the event, not even an off-duty EMT, nobody. It didn’t help that one of the fighters was knocked out cold during one of the matchups. There were also no weight classes, which isn’t illegal, but it doesn’t look good when you have an overmatched opponent being pummeled without any medical attention at the event.
Another oddity is the occupational license in which Din Thomas was apparently trying to work under. From what I read, Thomas rents a portion of the space for his events from a lady who actually rents out the warehouse from the owners. The lady (Name was blacked out on arrest report) runs a gymnastics school that has to work under an occupational license for gymnastics. It’s stated on the license as to what activity in permitted at the business. Therefore, Thomas cannot run mixed martial arts training under a gymnastics license, he must obtain his own. He failed to do so.
Along the lines of that argument, it seemed that when the lady was questioned if Thomas was working under her license, she said no. Later in the interview, she changed her answer and simply stated that he must be if he says so. It seems that she doesn’t have her story straight and doesn’t understand the laws in Florida regarding occupational licenses. She also stated that her license was for “karate” when she clearly runs a gymnastics school. Trying to cover her own tracks? It looks like it. The owners of the property were also unaware of the activities going on in the warehouse, and they may have been in the dark because this woman was basically subletting half her space out to Thomas.
These arguments seem more based on procedures rather than if Thomas actually committed a crime. He was working under a license that he can’t actually work under and was renting space out from a woman who wasn’t supposed to be subletting space to another person. These problems seem to be irrelevant to the case, but did seem to somehow add into the reason as to why they wanted to issue a warrant. For that, they may come up in court.
The fact that Thomas held the event without medical staffing isn’t a huge deal if you are in and around mixed martial arts training centers. It’s how things have been for quite some time, but to the average person who may actually see this case in court, it looks very bad and doesn’t look to help a case for him looking out for the safety of his fighters.
Unless this goes to trial, Din Thomas should get this bumped down to a misdemeanor. It seemed as if he thought nothing was wrong with holding the events due to the vast number of events just like it that have been held throughout the state. It also seems clear that he wasn’t paying the fighters although the police may try to incline that the money was actually to pay the fighters. If he wasn’t paying the fighters, they were amateur bouts, not professional. It seems obvious that he wasn’t openly promoting the events, or hiding the events in a dark basement somewhere like a scene out of “Fight Club”. He may get a significant slap on the wrist for holding the events that didn’t seem like sparring matches since there was no headgear used and any type of safety concerns. Although you and I know that this is how MMA is, the court may not see it that way. Either way, Thomas didn’t commit a crime that many other MMA trainers have done in the past. Who knows, maybe this will move Florida to actually sanction mixed martial arts and allow amateur MMA as well in the state.