SLO firefighter charged in bar fight won't face retrial

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comOctober 18, 2012 

John Ryan Mason, right, closes his eyes upon hearing the judge declare a mistrial Thursday, Sept. 27, as the jury deadlocked in Mason’s assault and battery case. At left is Mason’s attorney, Chris Casciola.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The District Attorney’s Office will not retry a San Luis Obispo firefighter charged with assaulting a man at a local bar last year, a prosecutor announced in court Thursday.

After a jury failed to produce a verdict in the trial of John Ryan Mason last month, prosecutors had to decide whether to seek a new trial or dismiss the case.

“After an evaluation of all the evidence and absent the discovery of new or additional evidence, our office has determined that it will not retry the case,” Jerret Gran, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said after a brief court hearing.

Mason, 35, faced charges of felony assault with great bodily injury and battery with serious bodily injury. The victim, Jory Brigham, 33, of Los Osos, suffered 17 facial fractures during a June 2011 altercation at Pappy McGregor's Bar & Grill in San Luis Obispo.

The prosecution argued that Mason attacked Brigham, while the defense argued that Mason was only defending himself.

Both men had attended the wedding of mutual friends that day.

After three days of deliberation, eight jurors voted to acquit Mason while four believed he was guilty. Unless a unanimous decision is rendered in a criminal case, a mistrial is declared.

After Thursday’s hearing, Mason’s defense attorney, Chris Casciola, said he was pleased with the prosecution’s decision to dismiss the case.

“You always have to be pleased when justice is served,” he said.

Casciola said a unanimous verdict would not be possible in the case, and lesser charges were not feasible. Had Mason lost, he would have been ordered to pay expensive restitution, would have automatically lost his job with the San Luis Obispo Fire Department, and could have faced prison time.

“From the outset, this was an all-or-nothing kind of case,” Casciola said.

He said his client is sorry for what happened to Brigham and for the attention the case brought to his profession.

But Brigham said he never heard any remorse from Mason.

“He’s taken absolutely no responsibility whatsoever,” Brigham said by telephone from his home.

While the defense portrayed Brigham as the aggressor that night, Brigham said he is not that kind of person.

“I’ve never been in a fight in my life,” he said. “I’ve got two kids. It didn’t cross my mind to do those things he was saying.”

The prosecution wanted to present witnesses who would testify about prior altercations Mason had. But the jury — whose initial vote was a 6-6 deadlock — was not permitted to hear much of that testimony.

“You wish everything could be put on the table,” Brigham said.

The feud between Mason and Brigham began when Brigham posted a comment on Facebook that Mason believed alluded to his marital problems. During the trial, Casciola argued that Brigham wouldn’t let the months-old dispute go. In the Pappy McGregor’s restroom, he argued, Brigham became aggressive.

Even if he had been the aggressor, Brigham said, the amount of force Mason used — which required Brigham to undergo extensive surgery and have his jaw wired shut — would have been excessive.

“You know when to stop,” he said.

Casciola said Brigham’s injuries could have resulted when his face hit the ground or a sink during mutual combat.

“I think the sheer magnitude of the injuries caused the District Attorney’s Office to pursue charges,” he said.

The prosecution argued that Mason knocked Brigham down with a punch, then elbowed him in the face several times.

Casciola said the jury didn’t believe Brigham.

Throughout the trial, the courtroom was filled with Mason supporters, including many firefighters.

“It was hard seeing all those firemen. I get it — firemen are loyal,” Brigham said, later adding, “How will I feel whenever I have to call 911 and one of those guys shows up?”

He said he wishes some firefighter would hold Mason accountable for his actions.

“No one has taken a stance to say the beating that took place in the bathroom was a little bit much,” he said.

While Mason won’t have a conviction on his record, Brigham said he and his wife have yet to decide whether to pursue a civil suit. Meanwhile, Mason’s status with the Fire Department is uncertain. A hearing next month could determine whether the 15-year firefighter with no previous record will remain employed, Casciola said.

“This is a man who’s saved lives,” Casciola said, noting that some of those he’d saved attended the trial. “My hope is that he’s going to be able to return to that.”

While Brigham is disappointed in the verdict, he said he and his wife are ready to move on.

“If this is the worst thing that ever happens to us, that’s not such a bad thing,” he said.

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