San Francisco, CA — A San Francisco street performer accused of punching and pulling a knife on a Muni agent was found not guilty by a jury Friday afternoon, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Robert Lewis, 44, had been charged with battery on a transportation agent and brandishing a knife. The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum sentence of two years in jail. Jurors arrived at the verdict after less than two hours of deliberation.
Lewis, who entertains tourists by standing on his head for extended periods, was arrested Dec. 6, 2009 at the Powell Street underground Muni station following a confrontation with the 28-year-old station agent.
The incident began when Lewis began loudly swearing to himself after he realized he lost the keys to his bike lock. Lewis told officers that the younger man approached him with fists clenched and began to angrily swear at him inches from his face. Lewis, who maintained he did not realize the man was a Muni employee, struck him once in the face as the man refused to back away. Lewis then told the man he was going to call the police and headed for the elevator. When the man followed, Lewis flashed his pocket knife and told him to leave him alone.
A police officer who took the stand during the two-day trial confirmed that the station agent was wearing a black, zipped up jacket which hid his Muni uniform. The station agent’s credibility was also an issue during the trial, said Lewis’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender James Conger. Under cross examination, the agent admitted that he had failed to disclose a past criminal conviction from his employer and answered affirmatively when asked if he would lie to save his job. The Muni employee unsuccessfully tried to get worker’s compensation for the slight abrasion he suffered in the incident.
“From the beginning, Mr. Lewis told police he had no idea this man who was getting in his face was a Muni employee,” Conger said. “He believed this was a stranger trying to start a fight with him. When he realized the man was a station agent, he immediately wrote an apology letter.”
Adachi said the jury made the right decision.
“Mr. Lewis felt threatened by what he thought was an aggressive stranger. He never intended to assault a Muni employee,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, the jury carefully weighed the facts and concluded that Mr. Lewis was simply trying to protect himself.”