McGraw, Chesney Plead Not Guilty; No Word If McGraw’s Sponsorship Affected

The lawyer for Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney has entered not-guilty pleas to the charges made against them following their Saturday night (June 3) fracas at the George Strait concert in Buffalo, N.Y.

McGraw faces the primary charge of second-degree assault on a law officer, while Chesney has been cited for disorderly concert. A third defendant, Mark Russo, a member of McGraw’s management team, has also pled not guilty of various lesser charges, including harassment, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan said the disturbance started in the performers’ area backstage when Kenny Chesney rode off with a deputy’s horse. Allegedly, McGraw grabbed and restrained a deputy who was going after Chesney, and Russo then came to McGraw’s defense when another tried to pull him away.

Thomas J. Eoannou, attorney for the three, told today (June 6), “Now we’ll sit down with the [District Attorney’s] office and explain to them that the police were wrong in the first instance in yanking Chesney off the horse, and hopefully we’ll make this thing go away.”

In a statement issued this afternoon, Eoannou also said, “Sworn statements from eyewitnesses had been provided to law enforcement which clearly indicate that Chesney had permission to ride the horse.”

Eoannou conceded that the deputies involved were in uniform, but he noted that “there were also uniformed guards around the area. That wouldn’t distinguish them from working as private security or non-duty officers.”

The speculation that McGraw might face prison time if convicted, Eoannou said, “is, in my opinion, absolute hype.”

Police overreaction seems to be emerging as a defense. A story in today’s Buffalo Times said that a deputy struck McGraw in the knee with a nightstick some time during the melee.

Whether McGraw’s high-profile arrest will affect Bud Light’s sponsorship of his upcoming tour with Faith Hill is not clear. A press relations spokesman for Anheuser-Busch said he will look into the matter, but there has been no official response yet from the company.

A press release from McGraw’s publicist says that he and Chesney will perform on the final Nokia Presents the George Strait Chevy Truck Country Music Festival date (just as they have in all the previous ones) Saturday, June 10, in Dallas.

McGraw has not spoken publicly on the Buffalo matter. In Eoannou’s statement he said, “Tim McGraw is confident that by cooperating with law enforcement the facts will prevail and the charges will be dropped without hard feelings on either side.”

Yesterday, Chesney issued this statement: “Unfortunately, what was meant to be a totally innocent and fun gesture was blown way out of proportion. Tim McGraw and I have been friends for a very long time. When he saw me in danger of being harmed, he simply came over to help out his friend. After seeing Tim’s loyalty to me, we have become even closer. We certainly did not mean to offend anyone. We just came to New York to give Buffalo a great show.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to