Defendant says SLO bar brawl put him on defensive

John Ryan Mason sits in court during his assault trial in September.
John Ryan Mason sits in court during his assault trial in September.

After a fight that left his opponent unconscious, an off-duty firefighter testified Friday that he didn’t call 911 because he had a “huge adrenaline rush.”

“I was not a fireman or an EMT at the time,” John Ryan Mason told a jury during his trial. “I was a human that had been attacked.”

Mason, 35, was the final witness to testify in his felony trial, which stemmed from a fight at a San Luis Obispo bar on June 4, 2011. The two-week trial, which has been unusually well attended throughout, began with Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy addressing the roughly 40 spectators about an outburst that occurred Thursday when some of the audience members reacted negatively to Deputy District Attorney Kristy Imel’s cross examination of Mason.

One of the comments included a possible threat to Imel, Duffy said, prompting him to have the court bailiff position himself closer to the audience.

“I want to be clear to everyone that behavior like that is unacceptable,” Duffy said.

Mason and Jory Brigham, a furniture builder from Los Osos, exchanged words in the restroom of Pappy McGregor’s Bar & Grill after attending a wedding of mutual friends. The prosecution alleges that Mason was angry at Brigham for a Facebook post months earlier in which Brigham alluded to Mason’s marital problems. The defense argues that Brigham — whose wife was friends with Mason’s wife — was drunk and physically attacked Mason after pursuing an argument.

“It was really fast,” Mason testified Friday, saying he fought back after Brigham shoved him. “I just reacted.”

Brigham suffered 17 facial fractures in the incident, including broken cheekbones, nose and jaw. Mason was unharmed.

During cross-examination of Mason on Friday, Imel presented a picture for the jury of an angry Mason intent on getting revenge for the Facebook post. After inflicting serious injuries to Brigham’s face, Imel suggested, Mason — even though he was a paramedic — left Brigham without calling for help. Despite claiming he had been attacked, Mason only talked to police the next day, she said, after his fire chief told him to do so.

Though Mason, a 15-year firefighter, admitted to knocking Brigham unconscious, he said he knew Brigham was OK.“After he sat up, I was not worried,” he testified.

In his interview with police, Mason said he’s a helpful, passive person unless he feels he’s backed into a corner.

“If I get in a fight, there’s a chance — good chance — I’ll lose because I’m not a big person,” he told Sue Dewbre, of the San Luis Obispo Police Department, in an interview.

Both men are roughly the same size — between 5 feet 11 and 6 feet, and 160 pounds — and Mason said he’s never had martial arts training. But Imel suggested Mason was particularly fit. To demonstrate that, she showed two photos to jurors — one of a shirtless Mason and another of Mason arm wrestling a friend. Both showed a toned and lean physique.

“Does this photo change your testimony that you’re not a big, muscular person?” she asked Mason.

“No,” he said. “I’m not a big, muscular person.”

Defense attorney Chris Casciola argued against showing the jury the arm- wrestling photo, saying its use would “make Mr. Mason look like a violent person.” But Duffy said it portrayed Mason in a “contest of strength,” and allowed it, prompting Casciola to become visibly disappointed.

The trial continues Monday with closing arguments.