Acquitted: It's Schaub, not Schwab

Former UVA star quarterback Matt Schaub, now a back-up quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was back in town last fall for the Maryland game. He quaffed a couple of beers with his football player buddies before heading to the Buffalo Wing Factory on Elliewood Avenue for a few more rounds.

That same night, November 4, second-year Mark Schottinger and his Dillard dorm buddies quaffed a few 40s and watched The OC before heading to the Buffalo Wing Factory for another pitcher or two.

By early morning of November 5, Schottinger had filed a complaint against Schaub, who turned himself in the following day to face misdemeanor assault and battery charges.

In court February 18, Charlottesville Judge Bob Downer said he wasn't buying the big guy versus little guy theory of the events that resulted in Schaub's arrest.

But as the 6' 5" Schaub stood at the bench for nearly three hours while 5'8"-ish Schottinger, 19, and his similarly sized pals testified, it was hard to ignore the difference in physical statures of the participants in the General District Court drama.

Schottinger accused Schaub, 23, of slapping him, putting him a headlock, and punching him.

Defense attorney Fran Lawrence portrayed Schaub as stalked and taunted by the "arrogant and mouthy " Schottinger, who kept referring to his client as financial analyst Charles Schwab.

Schottinger's sports fan friends, Brian Smith, 20, and Spencer Wright, 19, allegedly recognized Schaub at the restaurant. When they saw him later on Elliewood Avenue near Mincer's, Wright wanted to wish Schaub good luck in Atlanta, he testified.

As for Schottinger, "I had no idea who Matt Schaub was," Schottinger testified. That didn't prevent him from calling Schaub "Schwab."

"It was stupid," Schottinger admitted. He testified that a polo-wearing friend of Schaub's stood between the two men and that Schaub reached around "Pink Polo" and slapped Schottinger in the face.

"I kept saying the Schwab financial analyst thing, and he came around his friend again and tried to put me in a headlock," said Schottinger. "We stood there in disbelief."

According to Schottinger, the group encountered Schaub and his friend in the pink polo again in front of the Buffalo Wing Factory when they went back to retrieve another pal.

There, claimed Schottinger, "Schaub walked up to me and punched me in the mouth... And Pink Polo punched me in the cheek."

When Schottinger tried to call 911, he testified, the bouncer grabbed his phone twice and then punched him in the nose. Gushing blood, Schottinger flagged down a police officer. When Schottinger got out of the hospital, Schaub was the only alleged assailant he could identify, and he went to the magistrate and swore out a warrant.

Schottinger's friends, Wright and Smith, corroborated his account but, under Lawrence's cross examination, admitted they'd talked about the incident a number of times in the dorm.

Brian White is a fourth-year football player who was out that night with former teammates Schaub and Ryan Sawyer, now Schaub's roommate in Atlanta.

After stops at the Wing Factory and Jabberwocky, Schaub and White lost Sawyer when he went to the bathroom, and the pair proceeded to the corner of University Avenue and Elliewood Avenue.

"We turned the corner and we were confronted with this guy who said, 'Charles Schwab, give me a job in Atlanta,'" White told the court.

White denied any physical contact between Schaub and Schottinger. "I was maybe pushing people back," White testified. "I kept saying, 'Get this guy out of here.'"

Schaub phoned Sawyer to report he was being hassled. "I went to Matt and said, 'This guy has nothing to lose, and you have everything,'" said Sawyer. The football players escorted Schaub back to the Wing Factory.

Sawyer testified that Schottinger followed them down Elliewood, taunting, "Charles Schwab, tell your dad to get me a job."

Wing Factory bouncer and fellow UVA football player Andrew Hoffman heard a commotion up Elliewood and observed Schaub trying to walk away from Schottinger, he said.

At the Wing Factory, Hoffman hustled Schaub into the restaurant and refused to let Schottinger's party in. Schaub left by another door, his friends said.

Hoffman also testified that the restaurant's owner, Osama El-Atari, had been watching the incident. El-Atari asked the non-football player group to leave and then snatched Schottinger's phone when he threatened to call 911.

"The kid emerged from the group with blood running down, saying, 'I've been assaulted," said Hoffman. "I didn't see Osama hit him."

El-Atari was arrested January 13 and goes to court on assault and battery charges March 25. And the scene of the bloodied nose, the Buffalo Wing Factory, reportedly has closed. [See "The Dish" in this issue for more–editor.]

Finally, it was Schaub turn to testify about turning the corner to find "a group of gentlemen with Mr. Schottinger in the lead. We were, 'Who are they? I have no reason to speak with you.'"

Schaub described his friends coming to his aid and getting him away from the "guys harassing me." He denied touching Schottinger.

Judge Downer said he found everyone "refreshingly honest" about how much they had to drink– between six and eight beers in Schaub's case– and that he believed alcohol was a factor for all the participants.

"There's no doubt Mr. Schottinger started the action," said Downer, "perhaps to show his friends he's not impressed with Mr. Schaub."

Downer wasn't convinced about the alleged slap and headlock, and of the latter he said, "I'm not satisfied that rises to assault and battery."

What was undisputed is that Schottinger was injured. "If I believed Mr. Schaub hit him, I'd find him guilty, and he'd be looking at jail time," said Downer. A Class 1 misdemeanor assault and battery conviction carries up to 12 months in jail and the possibility of a fine up to $2,500.

But Downer didn't find evidence beyond a reasonable doubt and declared Schaub not guilty.

"It is always frightening to be charged with a criminal offense," defense attorney Lawrence said after the trial. "We were very fortunate that we had very credible witnesses that together saw the whole transaction," including two who weren't football players and "had no dog in the hunt," Lawrence said.

"Friday was a great day for me," Schaub told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It's a great weight off my shoulders to have this behind me. Now, I don't have to look back on that anymore. I can get on with my life."

Mark Schottinger will be back in court again March 25, facing Buffalo Wing Factory owner Osama El-Atari.

That won't be El-Atari's first day in court. After an unrelated September 13 incident, he was arrested and charged with felonious assault. Those charges were dismissed February 17– the day before Schaub's trial.

Quarterback Matt Schaub in 2003 before the beginning of his final season at UVA and before becoming an NFL player, is acquitted of punching out a second-year student last fall.