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Utah Governor's Son Charged in Fight Club

Crime: The teen bout was filmed as others cheered in a Mormon gym. The arrest sheds light on a youth trend.

April 11, 2002|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DENVER — The son of Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt has been arrested in connection with a teen-run fight club operating inside a Mormon Church gymnasium.

Chase Leavitt, 18, was charged this week with battery, disturbing the peace and trespassing. A 17-year-old was cited for assault and disorderly conduct but has not yet been charged.

The incident, which took place in December, came to the attention of authorities because neighbors noticed that attendees arriving at the church meeting house were being charged admission.

The fights were advertised on fliers that had been passed out by students from East High School, where Leavitt was a student.

Gov. Leavitt, a Republican, was supportive of his son, one of his five children.

"I have confidence in the process," Leavitt said. "He's a great young man. His life is on track in every other way, he has the love and affection of his father and mother and we'll work through this."

The case has received national attention because it involved the child of a public figure and because the problems associated with fight clubs are increasing.

"We are treating this as an average young person making a dumb mistake," Simarjit Gill, Salt Lake City prosecutor, said Wednesday.

The incident took place on Dec. 14, when, according to a police report, 50 to 80 high school-aged youths gathered inside a gym attached to a church in Salt Lake City. Most of the teenagers fled when police arrived, but officers found a video camera used to film the fights.

Gill said the videotape shows Chase Leavitt hitting another fighter, a minor. Both participants were wearing boxing gloves, but not protective headgear, Gill said. "They were punching each other, taking shots. It was a crowd of high school kids cheering them on," he said.

The two fighters were the first to be identified, said police spokesman Sgt. Fred Lewis, adding that others may be charged after a more complete review of the tape.

Police say the teenagers were in the church without permission, gaining entry with keys. Although the gymnasium was a "mess," according to the report, with overturned chairs and beer or urine staining a carpet, authorities from the church did not press charges. Lewis said he did not know whether the teens were members of that particular church or whether the building was simply a convenient venue.

So-called fight clubs are increasingly popular among suburban youths. Since the 1999 movie "Fight Club"--which depicted working-class men pummeling each other bare-fisted in underground clubs--teens and others have been promoting backyard bouts.

The popularity of professional wrestling has also spurred a boom in no-holds-barred fighting, events that sometimes offer cash prizes for winning fighters. Often called extreme fighting, there are no referees or judges and the objective is to hit the opponent until he submits or is knocked out.

The phenomenon is not unknown in Salt Lake City but police said this was the first arrest made in a fight club case.

"They are very popular with the kids," Lewis said. "Apparently they have been going on for some time. Our concern is public safety of kids. These are non-sanctioned fights. We want to send the message that we don't condone this weekend combatants type of thing."

Gill said the four-month lapse between the arrest and the charges was part of a backlog created by the Olympics, which were held in Salt Lake City in February. The investigation was complicated by the number of people on the tape who have to be identified.

"The video didn't come with a witness list," Gill said.

Police say the investigation is ongoing and further arrests are anticipated.

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