San Francisco, CA — A motorist acted in self-defense when he used a knife to fend off an off-duty San Francisco police officer during a road rage incident, a jury found Friday.

Nicholas Batchelor, 28, of San Mateo, was found not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, battery causing great bodily injury, possession of a switchblade knife, all felonies, and misdemeanor concealing evidence. The charges carry eight years in prison. The jury reached its verdict after deliberating for two-and-a-half days.

Batchelor, a grocery store manager, had no criminal history before his arrest on Feb. 10, 2009 following the incident at Haight and Steiner streets, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Manohar Raju.

Batchelor had been driving westbound on Haight Street when a Muni bus cut him off, causing him to swerve and nearly hit a bicyclist. Batchelor yelled out the window at the Muni driver as he passed the bus.

The bicyclist, San Francisco Police Sgt. John Burke, 47, mistakenly believed Batchelor was yelling at him.  Burke, who was wearing bicycling gear and never identified himself as an off-duty officer, approached Batchelor’s driver’s side window as the younger man parked his car several blocks away.

As Batchelor sat in his car, Burke began angrily swearing at him, demanding to know if Batchelor had been addressing him. During the two-week trial, both men testified that Batchelor explained he had been yelling at the Muni driver.

Batchelor testified that as he exited his vehicle, the cyclist stood 6 inches away and identified himself as a professional fighter.  He asked Burke to back off and again reassured him that his problem was with the bus driver, he testified.

Batchelor said Burke then struck him in the face with his palm, knocking the motorist’s glasses to the street. Burke testified that he struck Batchelor in the chest.

The off-duty officer then lifted him off his feet and threw him to the sidewalk, Batchelor testified. As Burke stood over the prone motorist and prepared to strike him again, Batchelor reached for his legal pocket knife and stuck Burke once in the left rib cage, he said.

Batchelor was arrested at the scene a short time later on an attempted murder charge, which a judge later dismissed. Arresting officers testified that Batchelor’s first words were to ask Burke’s condition.

Burke was treated at the hospital for a 2-inch stab wound. Batchelor was erroneously charged with possession of a switchblade, Raju said.

During closing argument, Raju argued that, “The prosecution tried this case because they felt they had to, because a police officer was the alleged victim. However, the evidence showed that Sgt. Burke was the aggressor and attacked Mr. Batchelor and that Mr. Batchelor acted in self-defense under the law.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said justice was done in the case.

“Mr. Batchelor repeatedly tried to diffuse the situation,” Adachi said. “He believed he was fighting for his life.”

###