An 18-year-old Union Catholic High School baseball player was assaulted by a local resident on Saturday, May 12 during a UCHS baseball game.
Michael Bennett, 44, of Dutch Lane in Scotch Plains was arrested at the scene and charged with simple assault after he allegedly grabbed the victim by the neck and the wrist, leaving scratch marks on the victim’s neck, Scotch Plains Police Captain Brian Donnelly said. Bennett was released with a summons pending a municipal court hearing.
Captain Donnelly stated that after observing the victim attempting to retrieve the ball, Bennett ran towards the victim, yelling “get off my property” before assaulting the player. He stated that while no striking occurred and no weapons were used, the assault was serious enough for the defendant to be charged.
Union Catholic Assistant Principal and Head Baseball Coach, James Reagan Jr. witnessed the attack. Reagan stated that the player was attempting to retrieve a foul ball when he was attacked.
“Everyone who saw this happen knows how disturbing it was. The foul ball had landed at the tree line bordering the Dutch lane property and when [the victim] went to retrieve the ball, the resident came out onto Union Catholic property and attacked him.”
Bennett was one of several Scotch Plains residents that spoke to the press regarding the legal battle between residents on Dutch Lane and Black Birch Road and Union Catholic over the threat of foul balls flying into residential yards from the Union Catholic Ball Field. In March, the zoning board granted Union Catholic permission to install netting in hopes of solving this issue.
In the July 3, 2011 issue of The Sunday Star Ledger, Bennett made this statement in regards to the dispute. “Had I known this, I would have not bought this house.” The defendant lives next door to Rajul Shah, who filed two lawsuits against Union Catholic regarding this issue.
Assistant Principal Reagan went on to state that the assault was witnessed by the entire Union Catholic and Plainfield baseball teams as well as coaches and fans at the game.
“It’s really disappointing to see a resident attack a student,” Reagan said. “Physically [the victim] is okay now but he was shocked and scared. We have been playing baseball here since the school opened 50 years ago in 1962. We are working with the town prosecutors to find justice for this player and his family.”