By Garance Franke Ruta and Sarah Lovenheim of the Washington Post
One of a national series of rallies for health-care reform took a violent turn Wednesday night when, according to authorities in Thousand Oaks, Calif., an unidentified man bit off another man's pinky finger at the top joint.
The Thousand Oaks event attracted only about 100 people -- a small group compared to the turnout at congressional town halls, which have drawn up to 1,500 people. But their passions were running high, and when a supporter of health-care reform wound up among a group of about 25 counter-protesters, an argument and fistfight broke out, Ventura County Sheriff's Capt. Frank O'Hanlon told the Associated Press.
Reports differ on whether the supporter went to confront the opponents intentionally or was just walking among them while trying to cross the street to the pro-reform rally.
Southern California's KTLA-TV, which first reported on the fracas, wrote, "The 65-year-old was apparently aggressive and hit the other man, who then retaliated by biting off his attacker's pinky."
The AP reported that the injured man "retrieved the finger and went to a hospital." The man, identified by ABC News as William Rice, received care from Los Robles Hospital and on Thursday told the Weekly Standard that the hospital was unable to reattach his fingertip. Also on Thursday, Rice appeared on Fox News, where he was interviewed by Neil Cavuto (see video clip, below).
O'Hanlon told the AP that authorities have a good description of the alleged biter, who fled the scene. "It's considered a mayhem which is the removal of an appendage from a human," Capt. Bruce Norris of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department told ABC News. "The crime is punishable by imprisonment for 2, 4, or 8 years."
Attendees at the Thousand Oaks rally took to their blogs Thursday to describe the clash. Reform opponent Eric Ingemunson recounts his story on RedCounty.com, and reform supporter Karoli Kuns tells her tale at DrumsnWhistles.com.
MoveOn.org sponsored the rally, along with others Wednesday night around the country, and Ilyse Hogue, a spokeswoman for the liberal advocacy group, called the incident "a regrettable act of violence."
"While we do not have any more facts about what happened then what we saw in press accounts, MoveOn condemns violence in all forms," she said in a statement to The Post.
"While we don't know if either party involved was a MoveOn member, we regret any violence that may have occurred yesterday, and we support the Ventura County Sheriff's investigation into the situation. It is our firm hope that this event does not detract from the tens of thousands who were out peacefully making their voices heard for health-care reform and a public option," Hogue said.