Pinky finger bitten off in healthcare reform fracas

September 3, 2009

The healthcare reform debate just reached a new level of vitriol, with a pro-reform protester biting off the fingertip of a counter-demonstrator in a fistfight between the two men, according to police in California.fingerbiter

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department says the brawl erupted Wednesday evening outside a shopping mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks.

Dozens of protesters holding a rally in support of President Obama’s healthcare reform plan got into a shouting match with a smaller group of anti-reform demonstrators across the street. The conflict escalated as a member of the pro-Obama group and a member of the counter-demonstration confronted each other and a physical fight ensued, sheriff’s spokesman Eric Buschow said.

The fisticuffs ended when the counter-protester, 65-year-old William James Rice, realized that the last third of his left pinky had been bitten off, Buschow said. He drove himself to a nearby emergency room, and a bystander who scooped the severed digit off the pavement and put it in a bag followed Rice to the hospital.

A hospital spokeswoman said Rice ultimately chose not to have doctors reattach the fingertip. Instead, his wound was cleaned and sewn up in the emergency room and he was sent home that night. She added that Rice was covered by Medicare, the government’s health insurance plan for the elderly.

Police said the biter has not been identified. Rice has admitted to throwing the first punch but says he did so because he felt threatened, Buschow said.

Rice gave investigators a photograph (above) taken just before the altercation.  Rice is wearing a khaki T-shirt and olive drab shorts; his opponent is in black at right. 

Depending on the outcome of the investigation, the biter could be charged with mayhem, an offense by which the perpetrator deprives another person of a body part, and Rice could be charged with battery for throwing the first punch.

“This isn’t a clear-cut situation,” Buschow says. “These are two people who by all appearances willingly engaged in a fight with each other, and that fight ended very badly. Had this happened in the context of a bar, we wouldn’t be talking. It’s all about the politics behind it.

“I’m sure that’s not what the Founding Fathers intended for public debate in a democracy,” he added.

For more Reuters political news, click here.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

This article is full of misinformation. The man whose finger was bitten was not even part of the protest. An AP article with direct quotes from the victim, William Rice, is available below:  /09/man_bites_off_tip_of_another_m.html

Posted by Trinity | Report as abusive

My pinkie, my pinkie, my kingdom for a pinkie but I guess he has that terrible Medicare a “Single-payer health care insurance” what a hypocrite. Did the little pinkie cry “Wee-wee-wee!” all the way home? It real should have been his right pinky finger that would have been a better story. They are haters not debaters.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

If he was just an innocent bystander how did he manage to get right in the middle of this highly volitale situation. Sounds like the old, BUT I DIDN’T DO ANYTHING story.

Posted by dean | Report as abusive

[…] A fuzzy picture of the finger biter has surfaced: […]

Posted by ObamaCare Supporter Bites Off Elderly Dissenter’s Pinkie Finger « Nice Deb | Report as abusive

These guys were on the scene, broke it and have a good description of what happened as well as pictures: ealthcare-vigil-bites-opponents-finger

What insanity.

Posted by Herb Mellons | Report as abusive

[…] And liberals bite the fingers off the 65 year olds. I think the moral of the story here is the ideological fanatics on both sides are idiots. What a great team we make! […]

Posted by Which of our Conservatives would boo a woman in a wheelchair? – Politics & Current Affairs Forum | Report as abusive

Is this what we have degenerated into in this country? How a debate about health care can become a brawl is beyond me. Both sides fueled by misinformation, stupidity and an inability to compromise will destroy any chance that people with no or inadequate care get the coverage they need. I’m disgusted by my fellow Americans, in fact disgusted by the way this debate has turned into a side show.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

[…] . . . except for all those folks who did. Dozens of protesters holding a rally in support of President Obama’s healthcare reform plan got in… […]

Posted by From Pine View Farm » “Nobody Could Have Predicted . . .” | Report as abusive

Eric. This article aside, it is an important issue that will affect the lives of every single American, not just the “so called” 46 million.

The majority of Americans do not want any of the plans mucking through congress. They certainly don’t want what the president wants. But it really doesn’t matter what the majority of Americans want. This administration and this congress want to “force” their health care junk on the rest of us. They don’t even know what they are forcing on us. We don’t deserve that. A lot of people think the American people should just roll over and let them do as they please. Well, that will lead to some very dark days for us and I am disgusted people can’t see beyond themselves to see we are slowly on our way to servitude. Move to Venezuela if you want what this bunch wants…

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

Idiot, of course the guy is going to say he wasn’t part of the protest. He was at the counter protest and he often engages in dialogue (argues) with Obamacare advocates. There is even a picture of him with two other counter protestors creeping up on the guy in black trying to leave but being irked by argument. It’s like Bill O’Reilly saying he is an independent.

Posted by George Bush | Report as abusive

Trinity: If there are differences between the two reports, how did you determine which was correct? Or did you just let your personal prejudices guide you.

Take a look at Rice’s interview with Cavuto on Fox. By his own admission he was demonstrating against the’s pro-healthcare protest.

Which of: Can you explain again how many liberals did you think were biting the finger off of how many 65 year olds?

Posted by BC | Report as abusive

HAHAHAHAHA….man we are so doomed.

Posted by Rokk | Report as abusive

The ant-reformists were shouting at an old lady and threatening her… then a pro-reformist crossed the street to express his disgust at how the ant-reformers actions towards the old woman (who i guess was just walking back to her car and passing out fliers)… more threats were tossed around and a fight broke out.

I would bite the finger of the man who threatened my grandma any day… this is all from several accounts from witnesses i found online

Posted by Intrepid_Albatross | Report as abusive

– Posted by Trinity
8:54 pm GMT
This article is full of misinformation. The man whose finger was bitten was not even part of the protest. An AP article with direct quotes from the victim, William Rice, is available below:

From your link: “I happened to be driving by and I stopped to ask people what their purpose was”

Quite obviously, Rice became part of the demonstration. He was nosy, he had an interest. The demonstrators didn’t come into his living room to seek him out. He wasn’t hunted down, so that someone could bite his finger off.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

My health coverage is fine! Leave it alone!

Posted by David | Report as abusive

The loonies who think they’re a majority are delusional. Poll after poll shows Americans favor a public option for health insurance to compete with corporate insurers. Depending on the wording, support varies from 55% to more than 70%.

It’s just priceless that this clueless schmuck who started the fight is covered by Medicare.

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive

[…] of my home county of Los Angeles), two attendees started a brawl that ended in one getting his pinky finger bitten off. The bite-ee decided not to have the finger sewn back on (war wound ensues) and the biter has not […]

Posted by Who Needs Reality TV When You Have the National Health Care Debate? « Politics – Pwn3D | Report as abusive

So, A guy counter demostrating against goverment healthcare for every one get a diget bitten off and then promptly gets his goverment paid healthcare to pay for it?!?!?

Thats fricken PRICELESS

Posted by Eron | Report as abusive

And you don’t think this will get uglier ? This is the beginning of a VERY divisive Issue and a VERY personal one at that. and you want congress to debate and decide YOUR medical care future.? Yes theMedical Insurance Industry Must be Made accountable and Changed HOWEVER I don’t think WE as a people should trust our Lobbied, Bribed, elected Officials to get between our bodies and our doctors with their Bought Off schemes. I say we need to take this to the next level, Americans Should be able to VOTE for themselves what medical program we support.( that’s right an election for the Medical Options( Our elected official craft in congress) we prefer !!!) and if at the end of the vote ” none of the above” box gets checked the most, then we start over until a REAL soultions are Created. Personally I think a program based on age of the recipient would be smart because different age groups have different needs. ages 1-25, 26-55 56-100+ work for me.

Posted by Wilson | Report as abusive

TC I’ve seen many polls and articles showing that most people believe that the health care system needs SOME KIND of reform. You must have missed my previous posts stating that I am not in favor of a gov. run plan either so spare me the “move to Venezuela”/”love it or leave it” bull#$%@.
As for the majority you speak of, most Americans have no idea what congress is debating. They get their opinions from the 24 hour news channels which have their own spin. In fact most Americans don’t even know that Congress has two bodies and can’t name the three branches of government so I’ll take their opinions with a grain of salt.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

Typical looney left. Everything is cool until you ever disagree with them and then they want to bite your fingers off or worse!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by John | Report as abusive

It is amazing to me that after all of the schemes and outright frauds these guys have perpetrated against the American people that some are still willing to go along with this nonsense. Come on people stop being such chumps its not that hard to figure out. Every program this and previous administrations have got ahold of has failed and sank us deeper into debt. I would rather take my chances with private insurers than having the IRS decide what kind of medical coverage I can have.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

Ah yet another hypocrite in the debate, no problem smashing a public system … all the while he gets treated with medicaid – figures. 70%+ of people want a public option and that is a FACT. The question is how to pay for it, people need to get of the “socialist” wagon and realize people want this. The only difference is they are not yelling for it or starting fights.

Posted by Mia | Report as abusive

“I’m sure that’s not what the Founding Fathers intended for public debate in a democracy”
It’s unlikely that the Founding Fathers envisaged America having a population that would allow itself to be robbed blind by health insurance companies and a corrupt pharmaceutical industry. Do Americans get to vote on what these companies do? Of course not, but unaccountable power always seems to worry them less than democratic decision making. Fact: the British pay less than half as much for healthcare and still live a year longer. No wonder the rest of the world thinks Americans are stoopid!

Posted by Andy | Report as abusive

Someone should have asked that man if he was a PAID protester by health insurance or the drug companies. Maybe one of them should pay for his trip to the emergency room, as a ”hurt at work” episode. You all DO KNOW that these old folks are sent out by the companies against a better deal for Americans. I say, if you don’t want your finger bit off, keep it the hell out of another’s mouth. What does Einstein do? Well he gets his finger fixed ON MEDICADE, just the thing he wants others left out of. The pre-boomers had it all handed to them during life, and are scared to death about giving back ANYTHING. Don’t even tell me about ”back in the day”…

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

John & jack… first john, it was the confused geezer protesting against reform that initiated the violence. I mean it doesn’t get much clearer than that. WHy do you ingorant pleb’s think that shouting and ignoring the facts will make jesus love you? Looney left?
My god man, think clearly for a minute, the GOP in its current direction is not looking for ways to improve government, they are just trying to keep the Obama administration from getting any progress, it has nothing to do with how it will affect america, their plan is block and delay progress right now.

Jack – If this plan was to go through, you would still have your insurance, your private insurance would be your choice to have. That is why it is called an option. Look up the meaning of the word “Option”. Perhaps that might help you see things a little more clearer… as a republican I am continually embarrassed by the clueless rantings of you types of morons, read, think, and then evaluate stop repeating the drivel that has been written for you by GOP PR scammers.

Posted by Smarter than you | Report as abusive

Fortunately for that Wingnut, our socialist Government-run Medicare system was there for him.

Posted by Jordan | Report as abusive

Ummm…I guess no one here has actually *used* Medicare before, have they? Once you hit that magical age for Medicare, you are FORCED to take it. Even if you have your own coverage, Medicare suddenly becomes your primary insurance and anything that it does not cover your own insurance company can not. How do I know this? From fighting desperately to get my grandfather care and procedures that Medicare refused to cover b/c they were not ‘cost effective’! His own, extremely good, insurance would normally have covered all of it w/ no problem, but COULD NOT because Medicare would not. He ended up dying far earlier than he otherwise would have (something all his doctors admitted was true) because of Medicare’s consistent refusals. My grandmother ended up being transported in a wheelchair to a follow up appt for a broken hip because Medicare would not cover transportation if she was on a stretcher. What was this again, about Obamacare not leading to bureaucrats deciding your medical care..?

Posted by Li C. | Report as abusive

Has anyone noticed that most of the people protesting against reform are old and already have government health coverage. I hope the baby-boomers die off soon, cause they are sucking the life out of this country with their me me me attitude.

Posted by drew | Report as abusive

Where does it say that this guy used a government program to get himself treated???

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

Good grief. I always knew that Obama supporters were rabid, that Obamacrats are in it to take the shirt off of your back, and that their plans would cost everyone an arm and a leg. Those were all supposed to be figures of speech, though.

Keep in mind that the Obamacrats are not working on health _care_, they are focused on health _insurance_. Following their pattern with Medicare, they are after the _money_ so that they can grab–and deplete–a new and bigger fund. Meanwhile, nothing to train more health care professionals. Nothing to provide more health care facilities. Nothing to balance the real problem–high demand and low supply. What a fiasco–and a graphic personal injury to go with it!

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

The polarization of this issue has been amazing. Why do so many people think they know the answers to this extremely complex issue? So many are listening to talk shows, etc. that the whole issue is so distorted by now no one could make any sense of it. And to fight about it? How does either side think they really know what’s going on or what’s best for the country?

This is insane…

Posted by Gene Dittmer | Report as abusive

OK Guys. I KNOW you can all read. The man did NOT have his finger fixed on MEDICAID.. READ… He had his finger fixed on MEDICARE…. Medicaid is the plan for the uninsured/low income folks. Medicare is the insurance that senior citizens subscribe to. Personally, I don’t trust this administratiion and don’t want to be a part of any insurance plan they devise. I would like to see something IN WRITING that we can read and study. I don’t want them throwing something together and voting on it in the we hours of the night BEFORE any of them have had a chance to read and understand it. They did that on the last bill for Cap And Trade. No way can we afford this bill. My kids don’t deserve a future of paying the rest of their lives for the spending of this administration.

Posted by Lynn | Report as abusive

Smarter than you,

It doesnt really matter if they call it an option, what it comes down to is the actual verbage of the bill itself. The fact that HR 3200 is so long and convoluted that it would take a team of attorneys a decade to read it tells you something. I think that part of your post is spot on about reading, thinking and evaluating. I think that is what our representatives should do with this bill. In reality though, they wont, it will get pushed through and then we will have to deal with whatever is tacked onto it.

Posted by Jack | Report as abusive

Oh Eric, calm down and stop swearing. You must have missed my several posts which clearly stated that no one argues that the health care system needs some tweaking. You only hear what you want to hear.

I also said that the clear majority don’t want anything to do with the health care bills mucking around in congress. You missed that part too.

Also, my statement stands, if you want the government to get involved with our health care (I never once said in my last post anything about a government option…), then move to Venezuela. I said that because any plan mucking around in congress is going to lead to control of our lives and servitude. Since you really don’t think far enough ahead than yourself, that would be a good option for you. This administration and this congress are destrying this country. The 2010 elections can’t get here fast enough. They all need to go…NOW!

I take it, you don’t watch cable news because you have made them the villain. I suspect you really are only talking about one cable news station rather than all of them. Well, as Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men”, “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!”. So it is just easier for you liberals to demonize anything that stands in the way of your agenda…at any cost.

Well, you are clearly in the minority. In case you haven’t noticed…

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

Photo credit?

Posted by Sue | Report as abusive

No jordan,the guy probably worked all his life and the care that he received was only a pittance of the taxes that were garnished out of his wages over the years.His protest is that money would be dispersed between many people who have neither contributed or should not be hear in the first place.Although like many people he is a decent enough guy probably not to objecting to this,but concerned that at a time in his life that he needs care there might be no funds left for him.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Eric h what you are saying in the last sentence of your posting falls in line with what is rampant in liberal thinking ,that the average american is uneducated or stupid! This is why the Obama government have totally underestimated the mood of the people. Sometimes simple common sense does prevail! and statements to the effect that the government heath care bill would be self financing is so unbelievable that only elitist thinking liberals would expect the people to swallow that.Also what i have been hearing about what one of Obama,s academics is saying about controlling the population the concern must be not loosing a little finger but something else.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

[…] Front Row Washington » Blog Archive » Pinky finger bitten off in …3 Sep 2009 by Steve Gorman  The healthcare reform debate just reached a new level of vitriol, with a pro-reform protester biting off the fingertip of a counter-demonstrator in a fistfight between the two men, according to police in California. fingerbiter … – [ ] […]

Posted by Blogs – comments blogs | Know Marketing Blog | Report as abusive

TC, explain to me how a public option or a non profit co-op that will compete with (not replace) private insurers will lead to “control of our lives and servitude”.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

Tell me why on earth any company will continue to provide health care to their employee’s when they can opt out for the public option. The fine for companies to NOT provide health care, will stil be lower than to provide health care insurance. Also what happens when funding inevitible runs out or short, i.e. during an economic downturn for instance. Here in california we have watched government funded health care take a hit with programs cut etc…and told tell me it would be any different for this MASSIVE program.

Posted by Susan | Report as abusive

The republican party and the insurance companies have done an amazing job at convincing americans it is ok to pay a hundred thousand dollars for a surgical procedure that is done in europe or asia for a fraction of that cost. I am not trying to dispute that the U.S.has the most advanced health care in the world, if you have the means to pay for it. European nations have paid higher income taxes for years to support descent health care for all citizens and it works there. Why not in america?

Posted by dean | Report as abusive

The group supporting the current healthcare policy(or lack thereof) are insane. They are being used again by the insurance companies, AMA, hospitals that dwarf city hall, with no regard for the common public. Finally, Obama has stepped in to end this Madoff-like scheme perpetrated on the average americans.

Posted by Berry Laws | Report as abusive

Brian, A study by the Annenberg Foundation – only 1/3 of Americans can name the 3 branches of government.
37% can’t find the US on a world map.
The list of things that Americans don’t know goes on and on.
Certainly people have opinions but what are they based on? 24 hour news channel spin and media ranting.
I know I certainly don’t have the time or patience to wade through House and Senate bills and this whole health care debate is being waged by people who don’t know what they are talking about. Nothing has even been firmed up in Congress.

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

All we have here is one side to the story, like many other immature men he just used physical violence because he was not able to articulate his position or use his brain to avoid one, never had the misfortune to be in a brawl myself, I only pity this man who felt the need to bunch his hand into someone’s mouth, so now all of you can claim he is something of a innocent victim. Walking away takes maturity some men have it others do not. What a pity.

Posted by Montana | Report as abusive

hi eric, one thing we have established ,is that the guy was there on his own behest, because of the treatment method he used.If the other guy had lost his finger it might have been a workers compensation deal! acorn or the services union,their protesters are on the pay role. Although people are vague on certain details they are not when they sense that someone is going to pull a fast one! so liberals beware and good bye VAN.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

eric as a follow up to your original suggestions as to the three tiers of the government, are we seeing a new branch develop?. The Cazr branch,where people who possibly cannot survive scrutiny get past the normal vetting process.We have been informed that Van jones was excused this formality ,and the original car cazr had to make a hasty retreat when people started looking into his back ground.Although this might only be a temporary arrangement that could be reversed like the statues surrounding Ted Kennedys replacement.Incidentally Teds nephew has reportedly said that he would not apply for the job because he thinks it is more important to be doing what he now doing dishing out the Hugo free oil! Unfortunately there is scepticism about this statement, some say the prospect of a scrutiny investigation has a part in the decision,anyway Eric could you clear up this for us in case we want to take you advice and be more informed in the future because your accusation are making us feel slightly deficient.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Ranting is not debating. Any new administration is not suddenly responsible for all of the sins of any previous administration(s) – either party. We can publicly voice our opinions in the U.S. (thank you founding fathers), but let our opinions reflect ourselves in a positive way by ensuring that we understand the facts by checking them out ourselves (no, that doesn’t mean listening to your buddy at the bar – sorry), and understanding that not everyone will agree with our viewpoint. A sign of maturity is also finding out that maybe you didn’t quite understand the issue the way you thought you did, and are ready to admit that maybe the “other group” does have some good points also. Reaching an informed-give-and-take middle ground for both groups is the way we grow personally and as a nation.

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

We are all adults here, and as adults we know there are consequences for are actions, so if you do not agree with his views on healthcare, you can a) do nothing, b) vote for him, c) not vote for him, d) protest and picket, its your choice, live the dream!

It all comes down to what you believe, either you are your brother’s keeper or are not. The healthcare system is broken, even when you play by the rules, because even when you are working and come down with something serious the insurance company can deny your claim and you are stuck using you own funds and filing for bankruptcy when these same insurance companies are paying out bonuses to those employees that deny claims and on top of that the same companies show record profits. We are already paying for emergency room care anyway for those without healthcare, it makes sense to me to cover everyone and not pay 10-20 times more for emergency room care.

Posted by Paul | Report as abusive

dean there is agreement in england that the national health care service, cannot be sustained as it is, it is costing to much money. What Obama intends doing over here,just push the bill through and leave the payment to be made some where in the future,not a good idea.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

[…] the various town hall meetings have taken on the air of a barroom brawl; please see: Pinky finger bitten off in healthcare reform fracas.  Having moderated barroom brawls myself, I can state that the typical bar fight is a good deal […]

Posted by Pushing Too Hard « The Brookhaven Bear Report | Report as abusive