Pinky finger bitten off in healthcare reform fracas
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.
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.