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Criminal cases in Alburgh, Vt. basketball brawl sent to court diversion

A man in a suit talks in front of a microphone.
Liam Elder-Connors
Vermont Public
Five people charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct after a fight broke out at a middle school basketball game in January will have their cases sent to diversion. If they complete the program, the charges would be dropped.

Five people facing charges stemming from a brawl at a middle school basketball game in Alburgh could soon see their cases dismissed. And authorities say there is no evidence to support charges related to a death of a man who was involved in the January fight.

Meanwhile, court documents provide new details about what started the brawl, which captured national attention when a recording of the fracas went viral.

Prosecutors said on Thursday that the five defendants, who were all charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct, will have their cases sent to diversion, an alternative process to the court system that often leads to charges being dismissed.

Jacqueline Giroux, 30, Jacques Giroux, 32, and Jason O’Leary, 30, of Alburgh, and Steven Carbone, 43, and Damien Kieu, 24, of St. Albans all pleaded not guilty to the charges. Only O’Leary and Jacqueline Giroux appeared in Grand Isle County Superior Court on Thursday — the other three waived their right of appearance.

"Referring them to diversion is the appropriate avenue, and it's something that I would do with any defendant that didn't have a criminal record, and were charged with those misdemeanor crimes."
Doug DiSabito, Grand Isle state's attorney

None of the five people charged have a criminal record, said Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito.

“Referring them to diversion is the appropriate avenue, and it's something that I would do with any defendant that didn't have a criminal record, and were charged with those misdemeanor crimes,” DiSabito said on Thursday.

Each of the people charged will meet with a panel to design a contract that’s intended to repair the harm caused by their actions, which could include community service. DiSabito hopes that the people he’s charged will go speak to the schools about their behavior.

“Turn this into a sort of teaching moment, that this is not how we act in any public place, let alone a seventh and eighth grade basketball game,” DiSabito said. “I’m hoping that they will use this opportunity to teach others that this is not how they should act.”

If each person completes diversion, the charges would be dismissed and could eventually be sealed.

More from Vermont Public: How officials are handling the latest allegations of racist behavior in Vt. high school sports

The brawl, which took place on Jan. 31 during a middle school basketball game between Alburgh and St. Albans City, came amid a series of controversies related to youth sports, including an incident where spectators allegedly used racial slurs toward high school athletes.

The fight in Alburgh started after a “verbal altercation” between Russell Giroux, 60, and two “Hispanic males” in the stands at the basketball game, according to a police affidavit. The men were complaining about the referees in the game, and allegedly called the referee racist, the records say.

Giroux’s daughter Jacqueline tried to get her father to stop arguing with Steven Carbone and Damien Kieu, according to the police affidavit. She then tried to hit Kieu, and got punched herself, according to the affidavit. Her husband Jason O’Leary and brother Jacques started trading punches with Carbone and Kieu, court records say. Russell also joined the fight.

About half an hour after the brawl, Russell Giroux had a heart attack while driving home. He was pronounced dead two hours later at the hospital, according to state police. The medical examiner found the cause of death was an “acute cardiac event,” but was unable to determine a manner of death.

“Speaking with the chief medical examiner and also a statement made by the decedent to rescue that he was not injured and not hit, I made the decision that … nothing that really connected anybody there to his death,” DiSabito said in an interview Thursday. “He had some significant health issues, and left there and then, you know, 30 minutes later, had a heart attack.”

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Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.