Braves’ Ozuna agrees to diversion program in domestic violence case

Outfielder Marcell Ozuna entered into a pretrial diversion program that could result in the dismissal of his domestic violence charges.

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

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Outfielder Marcell Ozuna entered into a pretrial diversion program that could result in the dismissal of his domestic violence charges.

Credit: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna on Thursday entered into a negotiated resolution that could result in his domestic violence charges being dismissed.

The 30-year-old was arrested in May after Sandy Springs officers reported seeing him choke his wife, throw her against a wall and strike her with the cast on his broken fingers. Felony charges were later dropped against Ozuna, but he instead faced a pair of misdemeanors — family violence battery and simple assault.

Ozuna appeared in court virtually Thursday morning and agreed to enter into the pretrial diversion program. The conditions require the Major League Baseball star to be placed on six months of supervision, undergo a 24-week family violence intervention program and complete at least 200 hours of community service, Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Simone Hylton told the court. Ozuna is also required to take an anger management course and undergo a psychological evaluation.

If he completes those requirements early, Ozuna’s supervision could be terminated after three months, Hylton said, adding that he must refrain from illegal drug use and is not allowed to have any violent contact with his wife, Genesis.

“There will be six months of supervision with our diversion program,” Hylton said. “He has to be supervised for at least three months. After those three months, the supervision can terminate once all conditions have been completed.”

Should he successfully complete his pretrial diversion, Ozuna’s criminal charges would be dismissed, the DA’s office said. If he fails to complete the conditions of the agreement or gets arrested again, however, the case will move forward with prosecution.

“Hopefully once it’s completed, I won’t see you again,” Fulton County Magistrate Judge Brandy Brooks told Ozuna over the Zoom call.

Attorney Michael LaScala said he didn’t think Sandy Springs police should have charged his client with a felony in the first place.

“Sandy Springs usually does an excellent job, but this case wasn’t well investigated,” LaScala said. “It was an unfortunate incident for everyone and he is looking forward to putting this behind him.”

LaScala said he negotiated extensively with the district attorney’s office and is pleased Ozuna’s charges will be dropped, calling it “a fair resolution for both the state and my client.”

In a statement, the DA’s office said after evaluating the evidence and Ozuna’s history, prosecutors determined misdemeanor charges and a pretrial diversion program were appropriate for the case.

The alleged assault occurred days after Ozuna broke two fingers May 25 while sliding into third base against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. He was placed on the injured list and has not played for the Braves since. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that MLB is also investigating the incident, though nothing has been announced regarding Ozuna’s status. He remains on the team’s 40-man roster.

In 2015, MLB implemented a domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy allowing the league to place an accused player on paid administrative leave for up to seven days while allegations are investigated. The MLB commissioner then determines the appropriate punishment, with no minimum or maximum penalty under the policy. Players may challenge any decision before an arbitration panel.

More than a dozen players have been disciplined since the domestic abuse policy was unveiled.

LaScala said he’s hopeful Ozuna will be allowed to return to the field soon since he didn’t plead guilty and hasn’t been convicted of a crime.

“Ultimately, it will be up to Major League Baseball. We’re optimistic that the MLB will take a look at this,” he said. “I hope to see him in a Braves uniform again soon.”

Asked what Thursday’s agreement could mean for Ozuna’s future with the club, Braves officials referred all questions to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office.

“As Major League Baseball’s investigation is still ongoing, all inquiries into this matter should be referred to the Office of the Commissioner,” a Braves spokeswoman said in response to emailed questions.

The AJC reached out to MLB for comment but did not hear back.

Ozuna was arrested May 29 when a 911 caller requested officers at a Windsor Cove home because of an assault in progress, Sandy Springs police Sgt. Sal Ortega said at the time. When officers arrived at the home about 12:30 p.m., they heard screaming from inside and noticed the front door was open, Ortega said.

“Officers entered the residence through the open door and witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall,” Ortega said in an emailed statement. “Officers were able to immediately take the suspect into custody without further incident. In addition to the strangulation attempts, the suspect also struck the victim with his arm which has a cast from a previous injury.”

Investigators said Ozuna’s wife had visible injuries but did not go to the hospital. After his arrest, Ozuna was released on $20,000 bond.

The arrest came a year after Ozuna’s wife was charged following a domestic dispute in which she reportedly hit her husband in the face with a soap dish. She was arrested after a two-week investigation and charged with domestic battery.

In the shortened 2020 season, Ozuna helped lead the Braves to their third straight National League East title. After leading the league in homers, Ozuna was re-signed in February. The deal was for four years and $65 million, with a fifth-year team option worth $16 million, and there is a $1 million buyout.

He appeared in 48 games this season and was batting .213 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs.

Ozuna’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 13.