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Jury finds Miami Heat liable for $50,000 in mascot incident

February 14, 1997 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A federal jury on Friday ordered the NBA’s Miami Heat to pay $50,000 to a woman who claimed she was publicly humiliated by the team’s mascot during a 1994 exhibition game.

Yvonne Gil-Rebollo, who also claimed she was injured by the Heat’s mascot during the game, had sued for $1 million.

``I was deprived of my dignity and it was wrong,″ a tearful Gil-Rebollo said after the verdict. ``I was in no way compensated for my damages.″

In December, a jury awarded Gil-Rebollo $10,000. But Judge Jose Antonio Fuste ordered a retrial, ruling that the eight-woman jury was biased toward the defendant, mascot Wes Lockard.

The lawsuit stemmed from an Oct. 23, 1994, exhibition game in San Juan, when Lockard, dressed up in his fuzzy orange bird costume as Heat mascot ``Burnie,″ dragged Gil-Rebollo onto the court against her will.

Gil-Rebollo claimed she developed severe tendinitis in her left shoulder after Lockard threw her down on the court in a mock wrestling match in front of 6,000 spectators.

Lockard testified that he ``just wanted to dance″ with Gil-Rebollo, who is the wife of Francisco Rebollo, a Puerto Rico Supreme Court judge, and the sister of Guillermo Gil Bonar, the island’s U.S. attorney.

``I’m the strong man? I’ve never lifted a weight in my life,″ a beaming Lockard said Friday.

Both sides said they were considering appealing the verdict.

It was Lockard’s third trial in connection with the incident, which occurred during an exhibition between the Heat and the Atlanta Hawks. In December 1994, a local judge found Lockard guilty of aggravated battery and fined him $300.