Updated March 30, 2022 - 4:57 pm
Prosecutors dropped a felony battery charge Wednesday against former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen, who was accused of attacking multiple people in a Las Vegas hotel hallway in December.
Sonnen, 44, was charged earlier this month with a felony count of battery by strangulation and 10 misdemeanor counts of battery, court records show. On Wednesday, Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure allowed prosecutors to file an amended criminal complaint, reducing his charges to six misdemeanor counts.
On Friday, Christopher and Julie Stellpflug of San Luis Obispo, California, filed a lawsuit against the former professional fighter, who they claim repeatedly punched them without provocation on Dec. 18 in a hallway of the Four Seasons, at 3960 Las Vegas Boulevard South.
The felony Sonnen faced related to injuries Christopher Stellpflug said he received in the attack, which included Sonnen placing him in a chokehold, his attorney, Kory Kaplan, said during Wednesday’s hearing.
According to Las Vegas Justice Court records, the Metropolitan Police Department issued five misdemeanor battery citations to Sonnen in January. On Wednesday, Bonaventure said that case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the charges could be re-filed, after a different judge found “procedural deficiencies.”
Assistant District Attorney Robert Daskas said prosecutors had no involvement in the first case, because police submit misdemeanor battery citations directly to Justice Court. Once that case was dismissed, prosecutors recommended filing the felony and 11 misdemeanors.
Metro detectives then reviewed the Stellpflugs’ medical records and determined that Christopher Stellpflugs’ injuries were not serious enough to be considered the basis for a felony, Daskas said. He said the charges now reflect a misdemeanor for each person the defendant is accused of beating.
Claims of special treatment
Julie and Christopher Stellpflug said they are still seeing doctors in California while recovering from concussions. Both were bruised, and Julie Stellpflug said she had a split lip after the attack.
Kaplan said Wednesday that his clients objected to Sonnen’s charges being reduced and that the move contradicted what prosecutors previously told them.
“It’s only a day or two after this case hits the media that all of a sudden this motion is filed,” Kaplan said. “And I don’t know for what reason. My clients believe that a celebrity is getting favorable treatment.”
Daskas said there is no indication that the officers who initially issued Sonnen’s citations knew he was a former UFC fighter.
“To the extent anyone is suggesting that the defendant is getting special or favorable treatment because he’s a celebrity or UFC fighter is outrageous,” Daskas said.
Sonnen’s defense attorney, Dayvid Figler, said the charges were dismissed after he asked the district attorney’s office to take another look at the case. He disputed the claim that Sonnen was being treated differently due to his career.
“I think that the reason we’re in this situation is because (Kaplan’s) client is making an effort to be in the media,” Figler said.
Details of alleged attack
According to the Stellpflugs’ lawsuit, the couple were walking down the hallway when they saw a man who appeared to be intoxicated, “uttering unintelligible noises.” The man, whom police later identified as Sonnen, was barefoot and wearing a torn, bloody shirt around his neck.
Sonnen knocked a drink out of Christopher Stellpflug’s hand, “without provocation or any communication whatsoever,” the lawsuit states. Sonnen then began punching Christopher Stellpflug in the head multiple times.
According to an arrest warrant released Monday, Sonnen began choking Christopher Stellpflug while Julie Stellpflug “continued to yell and scream for help.” He then threw her against a light fixture and punched her in the face, she told police.
As this was happening, another man came out of his room and tried to stop Sonnen, who began elbowing the man, according to the lawsuit.
Another man told police he called security after Sonnen punched him in the face when he opened a door to the hallway, which happened just before before the Stellpflugs arrived.
Sonnen also is accused of striking one security guard in the nose with his knee and kicking another in the chest before he was detained by more employees.
The suspect told police that he and his wife had taken Ambien and “did not have a memory of anything” related to the alleged attack, according to his arrest warrant. Sonnen’s wife, Brittney, told police she was asleep “for the entirety of the brawl,” according to a police report.
An officer who authored the incident report indicated that Brittney Sonnen was injured, but the officer did not elaborate on her injuries.
Sonnen was a two-time silver medalist in wrestling at the Pac-10 championships for Oregon and took second place in the world university championships in 2000.
He was 0-3 in UFC title fights, losing twice to middleweight champion Anderson Silva and then once to light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in 2013.
Sonnen has spent his retirement as a commentator and podcaster. The jiu-jitsu black belt is also the founder of Submission Underground, a popular grappling promotion.