Miss. ex-congressman scuffles with soccer coach

Published 1:38 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering and a youth league soccer coach fought after a weekend game, and now investigators are trying to figure out who started the scuffle, police said Monday.

Christopher Hester, a nurse, coaches a South Madison County Soccer League team for 10- and 11-year-olds that played against Pickering’s son’s team at Liberty Park. Pickering approached Hester about the way his son was treated, and the incident escalated from there, Madison Police Master Sgt. Robert Sanders said.

Pickering said in a statement that he approached Hester after “the coach verbally abused and physically intimidated my son, visibly upsetting my son to the point of uncontrollable crying.”

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Pickering said after he asked Hester not to talk to his son in that manner, the coach attacked him, “and I was forced to defend myself by restraining him.”

Hester, 38, and Pickering, 46, both claimed in affidavits that they were hit by the other.

Hester told The Associated Press he didn’t know who Pickering was when the politician approached his vehicle. Hester also said he was wearing a neck brace because of a recent surgery when Pickering pulled him from his Nissan Armada. They had to pulled apart by spectators, he said.

“I tried to explain to him, ‘Sir, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who your son is.’ He just blew up,” Hester said. “He proceeds to start threatening and yelling at me. It scared the crap out of the kids in my car.”

Sanders said Hester was in the neck brace when he spoke with police Sunday.

Pickering, a Republican who served 12 years in the U.S. House, often ran on a family-values platform and used photos of his five sons in his campaign material.

He said Monday that he regretted the “adverse impact” the incident might have on the children participating in the sport. Pickering also said he would file a complaint with the Mississippi State Soccer Association, seeking Hester’s suspension.

A city judge will decide whether either man will be charged with misdemeanor simple assault, which carries a maximum of six months in jail and $500 fine. No court date has been set.

Pickering chose not to seek re-election in 2008. He left office in January and joined the Jackson-based lobbying firm Capitol Resources LLC. One of Gov. Haley Barbour’s nephews is a partner in the firm. The firm lists Pickering as a member of its Washington and Mississippi teams.

Pickering and his wife, Leisha, filed for divorce in 2008. Chip Pickering’s attorney, Richard Roberts III, would not say Monday whether the divorce is complete.

In July, Leisha Pickering sued a Jackson woman, claiming Chip Pickering had an affair with the woman that ruined the Pickerings’ marriage and derailed his political career.