March 2, 2024

An attorney representing Mike Tyson said the former heavyweight champion will not pay a pre-litigation settlement demand of nearly half a million dollars to a man who says he was punched repeatedly in the face by Tyson on a plane at San Francisco International Airport last year.

Attorney Jake Jondle sent a letter last week on behalf of client Melvin Townsend III to Tyson attorney Alex Spiro asking for $450,000 “in an effort to resolve this matter prior to protracted litigation.” The letter has been viewed by The Times.

“In exchange for that amount, Mr. Townsend will provide your client with a mutually-agreeable release that will bar him from filing a future lawsuit, as well as reasonable terms requested by your client,” Jondle wrote in the letter. “If we are unable to reach an agreement, we will continue to prepare Mr. Townsend’s case for the filing of a lawsuit.”

In a statement emailed to The Times, Spiro said his client has no intention of making a “shakedown payment” to Townsend.

“I have received a shakedown letter related to some instigator’s harassment of Mike a year ago and the aftermath,” Spiro wrote. “There will be no shakedown payment.”

Jondle did not respond to multiple requests for comment by The Times.

The incident between Tyson and Townsend occurred April 20, 2022, when Townsend was seated in the row directly behind Tyson on a JetBlue Airways flight set to depart from San Francisco for Florida. Townsend appeared intoxicated and was allegedly making rude remarks toward passengers, San Mateo County Dist. Atty. Steve Wagstaffe told The Times in May 2022.

Matt Morgan, an attorney for Townsend, told TMZ last year that Townsend denies reports he threw a water bottle at Tyson. Video posted by TMZ appears to show Tyson standing and reaching over his seat to repeatedly punch Townsend in the face, while at least one other passenger calls for him to stop.

In his letter last week, Jondle presented Townsend’s account of the incident.

“It is our position that Mr. Townsend was excited to see your client on the flight, began discussing the marijuana industry and psychedelic mushrooms with him, and Mr. Tyson became annoyed,” Jondle wrote. “Mr. Tyson then reached over the seat, grabbed Mr. Townsend by the shirt collar, and proceeded to repeatedly punch him in the head.

“As a former undisputed heavyweight champion, the potential to cause severe injuries to another person goes without questions. There were several other remedies available to Mr. Tyson, but he chose physical violence.”

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Wagstaffe told The Times last year that neither Townsend nor Tyson wanted charges to be filed. The D.A. obliged.

“This case doesn’t belong in criminal justice,” Wagstaffe told The Times in May 2022. “If the parties want to file a civil suit, that can still happen irrespective of this decision.”

In the letter dated Nov. 28, Jondle indicated his client intends to do just that if his demand isn’t met. He writes that Townsend, who was 36 in May 2022, immediately suffered a severe headache and neck pain following the incident and “due to his lack of health insurance and living in an isolated area of Northern California at the time, he was unable to seek consistent medical treatment.”

“He is still suffering with the effects of the assault to this day,” wrote Jondle, who added that “Mr. Townsend experienced the loss of several jobs due to the unfortunate notoriety he experienced as a result of your client’s actions.”

The letter also mentions a 2022 appearance by Tyson, now 57, on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” show, during which the retired boxer laughs about the incident but also seems to express remorse over it.

“I was wrong, that should’ve never happened,” Tyson said on the show. “That’s me back in my primitive child stages, I shouldn’t have done that, but I was just irritated, tired, high and pissed off.”

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