MSU trustee assaulted referee after technical fouls led to loss, prosecutor says

Michigan State University Trustee Mitch Lyons is on trial for one misdemeanor count of assault and battery for allegedly shoving a referee during a youth basketball game. The trial began May 4.(

JACKSON, MI – Mitch Lyons was furious when he shoved a referee after a series of "bad calls" led to the narrow defeat of his middle school girls’ basketball team five months ago, prosecutors say.

For what allegedly happened, Lyons, a Michigan State University trustee, is now on trial in Jackson County District Court facing one misdemeanor count of assault and battery.

The prosecution and Lyons’ attorney agreed to a bench trail, which began Friday, May 4. District Judge Michael Klaeren will decide the verdict.

The case stems from an incident at a December 2017 middle school girls’ basketball tournament at Grass Lake Middle School.

Lyons was the head coach of a Grand Rapids team facing a Grass Lake team in a championship-deciding game, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Steve Idema said.

With less than 60 seconds left on the clock, Lyons’ team was ahead by five points when both he and a player received a series of technical fouls that eventually cost Lyons’ team the game by one point, Idema said.

Furious at the loss, Lyons allegedly shoved and threatened one of the men refereeing the game, Kevin Butters, as he tried to leave.

Butters said he felt two hands shove him from behind as he put on his coat. He turned around and saw Lyons towering over him, visibly upset, he said.

"He called me a short, fat piece of s— and then shoved me again," Butters said. "I told him not to touch me and then he said he would whoop my a–."

An event staff member allegedly saw a crowd circling Butters and moved in to get him out of the gym, Butters said.

More upset spectators were waiting outside near the referee’s car, causing fellow referee, Trevor Walker, to call 911, Butters said.

Michigan State Police and Jackson County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the scene and questioned Butters, according to police audio played at the trial.

Lyons’ attorney, Brian Lennon, argued it was a referee, not Lyons, who escalated the situation at the tournament.

"He has been coaching for 20 years and has never had a problem," Lennon said. "This is about a problem referee who wanted to get his revenge."

Corey Dykstra, Lyons’ assistant coach, testified it was an intense game, but he did not see Lyons lose control or begin yelling at the referees.

"It was frustrating to see the girls lose like that and I don’t think the coach of the other team liked it either," Dykstra said.

Walker testified he only saw Lyons shove Butters one time from behind and then threaten to beat him up. He didn’t see what happened after that as he saw three men coming at him in a threatening manner and wanted to leave before things escalated, he said.

No injuries were reported during the incident.

Lyons has served as an MSU trustee since 2011 and lives in the Kent County community of Rockford. His trial is scheduled to resume Monday, May 7.

Michigan Center’s Brenden Hutchins (14) celebrates after recording an out to end the inning as Michigan Center takes on Leslie in the regional semifinal on Saturday, June 10, 2017. (Jake Crandall | Mlive.com)

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