Capitol Alert

Should fans crashing the field at sporting events be punished with jail time?

It started like any other incident in the long tradition of fans crashing the field at professional sporting events: A young man hopped onto the diamond at AT&T Park last September, interrupting a crucial late-season game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers to pass out flowers to the players.

It ended, however, more notably than most, with former Giants left fielder Angel Pagan tackling the man. The confrontation generated scores of headlines – and perhaps a new California law.

Citing that and other instances of field-crashing that teams say make players feel unsafe, state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, on Thursday announced legislation to increase the penalties for disrupting professional games, including possible jail time.

“Sometimes it seems funny to those of us watching on TV or in a stadium, but it's actually a serious safety issue for players,” who have no idea if the person is trying to hurt them, Wiener said. “They're sitting ducks on the field.”

Under current law, running or throwing objects onto the field is an infraction with a $250 fine. Disruptive fans are generally cited and ejected from the game.

Senate Bill 689 would make the crime a “wobbler,” allowing authorities to arrest someone and charge them with either an infraction, carrying a fine of up to $1,000, or a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 10 days in jail and a $2,500 fine for a first offense, and up to 60 days in jail and a $5,000 fine after that. The measure also extends to players and coaches a California law protecting referees that imposes up to one year imprisonment and a $2,000 fine for attacking them.

Wiener said that, compared to other states, California gives fans who crash the field get a “slap on the wrist.” More serious charges would dissuade future incidents, he said, by encouraging people to “stop viewing it as just a fun thing to do.”

The bill was brought to Wiener by many of the state’s professional sports teams, including the San Francisco Giants. Executive vice president and general counsel Jack Bair said he thought people would be “surprised to learn that the penalties are so lax right now.”

“The players feel vulnerable and want to feel like there's a sense of seriousness about the issue,” he said. “We have to continue to be vigilant.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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