Mason testifies he defended himself in bar fight

A San Luis Obispo firefighter accused of putting another man in the hospital after a fight in a local bar last year testified Thursday that he was defending himself in an altercation he did not start.

Most of John Ryan Mason’s testimony reiterated what his attorney, Chris Casciola, has been telling the jury throughout the case: a drunken Jory Brigham started the fight and a frightened Mason was only defending himself.

Mason, 35, whose trial began Sept. 5, faces charges of felony assault with great bodily injury and battery with serious bodily injury. The alleged victim, Brigham, 33, suffered a broken nose, broken jaw and broken cheekbones during a June 2011 altercation at Pappy McGregor’s Bar & Grill in San Luis Obispo.

The two men had an ongoing dispute related to allegations that Mason had an extramarital affair. The altercation occurred in the bar restroom after the two attended the wedding of a mutual friend.

Focusing mostly on the fight, Mason testified that he could not get out of the bathroom after Brigham began aggressively speaking to him about an affair Mason admitted to having in court Thursday.

“The poking and the touching was throughout our conversation. And then he gave me a big shove,” Mason said to Casciola in his relating how the fight began. “I put my hand up to protect my head and he grabbed my jacket, then we were engaged.”

Mason testified that he struck Brigham with a “glancing blow” and the two men fell to the ground. Once down, Mason said, he struck Brigham with three blows to the face with his right forearm. When it was clear Brigham was not fighting back, Mason got up and left the restroom, he said.

“It was a fight-or-flight reaction,” Mason said. “I definitely was in a fight, and I was trying to save my life and protect myself. When you’re in a fight like that, you can’t stop until someone is stopped.”

But Deputy District Attorney Kristy Imel’s cross-examination characterized Mason as a man looking for a confrontation who could have walked away, highlighting inconsistencies between his testimony on the stand and what he told detectives.

While Mason testified to Casciola he had no way out of the bathroom, Imel pointed out Mason said in a statement to detectives soon after the fight that he could have left the room.

Mason had said to detectives, “I guess I could have, you know, tossed him and then run out the door or something like that.”

But when asked in court Thursday about his statement, Mason said, “I did not mean that I had a chance to get out.”

Imel then read another statement made by Mason to detectives: “I could have run out. But he was so in my personal space, you know. It was like, wow.”

Mason’s only reply to Imel’s question was that the fight was a blur and that “it’s not like an action show on TV.” Imel later asked Mason why he could not escape from Brigham, whom Mason described to detectives as “drunk, really, really drunk.”

Mason replied that he didn’t expect it to get physical: “I didn’t think he would push me and try to fight me.” Countering that point, Imel said: “You were there to engage him. You were going to fix what was going on. Isn’t that correct?”

Mason’s testimony will continue at 1:30 p.m. today before Judge Michael Duffy in Department 5 of the San Luis Obispo Superior Court.