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Tennessee judge rules Grizzlies' Ja Morant acted in self-defense in an altercation with a teenager

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Memphis Grizzlies defenseman Ja Morant received a favorable ruling this week from the Shelby County (Tenn.) District Court judge overseeing the lawsuit filed against him by Joshua Holloway. The judge entered an order Tuesday saying Morant acted in self-defense in 2022 when he hit Holloway, then 17, in the face during a pickup game at his Tennessee home.

Holloway filed a civil lawsuit against Morant last year, but that ruling, the judge continued, gives Morant “the presumption of civil immunity” in the lawsuit and shifts the burden of proof to Holloway to show that Morant should be held civilly liable.

The altercation between Morant and Holloway occurred after several hours of pep games at Morant's house. Holloway was a regular at Morant's house and initially appeared to be there at the invitation of Morant's younger sister before entering into a relationship with the Grizzlies star. The court heard the statements of nine witnesses in December to understand how and why the incident between Morant and Holloway occurred.

Holloway, Morant, his father Tee Morant, his sister Teniya, his friend Davonte Pack and former NBA veteran and current agent Mike Miller were among the witnesses.

Judge Carol Chumney then decided on a timeline of events from which she made her decision. The situation between Holloway and Morant began to escalate when, as Chumney wrote in her filing, Holloway placed a basketball at Morant's feet to control the ball to start the game rather than pass it to him.

“Mr. Morant, the other players and spectators alike found this move disrespectful,” Chumney wrote in the filing. “Mr. Morant told the plaintiff this – “That was disrespectful” – and handed the ball back to the plaintiff. At this point the plaintiff would not check the ball. He just left the ball there. Then he kicked the ball. The ball was kicked and rolled back and forth. The ball landed on the fence at the other end of the field because no one wanted to pick it up.

“The plaintiff responded by handing the ball back to Mr. Morant, this exchange continued for a while. Eventually, however, due to the desperation of other players, Mr. Morant picked up the ball and handed it to the plaintiff on his chest. Instead of “checking” whether his team was ready, plaintiff immediately returned the ball to Mr. Morant and struck Mr. Morant in the face.”

According to Chumney's description, the ball hit Morant in the mouth and sent his head flying back.

“The plaintiff has not apologized or given any indication that hitting Mr. Morant in the face was a mistake. Mr. Morant responded by asking the plaintiff, “What are you up to?” Means, “What have you got going” or “What are you doing this for?” Other players and spectators understood this meaning. The plaintiff did not respond verbally to Morant's question.

He didn't say any threatening words at the time either. But the plaintiff’s response was non-verbal: he pulled up his shorts.”

That move, Chumney wrote, was taken as a sign that Holloway wanted to fight, citing statements from six witnesses who described him as having that intention. Morant and Holloway then stepped toward each other, eventually standing chest-to-chest before Holloway shoved Morant with his shoulder and stood back up ready to fight, Chumney wrote.

“Morant took a step back,” Chumney’s filing says. “Holloway pulled his pants back up and stepped forward. Mr Morant interpreted these actions to mean that the plaintiff was about to hit him. He responded with a single punch to protect himself. The plaintiff stumbled back, but then collected himself, raised his guard, and stepped forward again. Mr. Pack then responded with a punch. Plaintiff fell to the ground as Mr. Pack struck him, and Mr. Pack immediately began pulling Mr. Morant away.”

Chumney stated that this response from Morant was sufficient to determine that he had acted fairly in self-defense under Tennessee state law and that the use of force was justified.

(Photo: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)