Friday, August 23, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A 52-year-old man accused of smashing a champagne bottle over his 30-year-old coworker’s head after the younger man changed the music from classic Michael Jackson to dubstep has been acquitted of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated six hours before finding Gaspar Magisa not guilty Thursday afternoon of assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily injury, according to Magisa’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson. If convicted, Magisa faced five years in state prison.
Magisa’s arrest stemmed from a bloody incident at a team-building happy hour at advertising firm AKQA on April 27, 2012. Witnesses at the weeklong trial testified that employees, including Magisa, became increasingly annoyed by the younger man’s insistence on switching off his coworkers’ music selections in favor of the bass-heavy electronic dance music.
Coworkers testified that the younger man was extremely drunk and inhaling nitrous oxide, known as Whip-Its, outside the building. When he switched Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Startin‘ Somethin to a dubstep track and proceeded to dance, Magisa, who was pouring himself champagne, decided something had to be done. Still holding the champagne bottle by the neck, Magisa approached the laptop with the intention of returning to the Michael Jackson song. When the younger coworker rushed to commandeer the computer and advanced toward Magisa with an angry look, Magisa reflexively swung the bottle, hitting his coworker in the head. The coworker’s laceration required 17 stitches and two staples to close.
During the trial, Wilson argued that Magisa acted in self-defense against a violent man who had attacked him and others previously. On the stand, the younger man denied being violent. However, he was contradicted by witnesses who testified he engaged in a spree of violence months earlier at the office Christmas party, including sneaking up behind two men separately as each used a urinal, poking his finger in one man’s eye and smacking the other man’s head against the wall. The complaining witness, when questioned on the stand about the urinal incidents, characterized his conduct as “utterly hilarious.”
After the same Christmas party, witnesses testified, a group of AKQA employees went to the Mission District bar Zeitgeist, where the complaining witness’ belligerence roused the ire of bouncers. When Magisa shepherded him outside, the man picked up the 52-year-old and body slammed him to the sidewalk.
Magisa had been friendly to the young man previous to the Christmas party, including inviting him to his home for Thanksgiving. At that gathering, witnesses testified, the younger man offered to go on a beer run, only to get into a wrestling match with a homeless person on the way to the liquor store.
At the trial, Wilson played the man’s call to 911 following the champagne bottle incident. In the call, the man, who is Russian, calls Magisa a racial epithet historically directed at African Americans. Magisa is Filipino. In an audiotape of the man’s subsequent conversation with a police investigator, he is heard saying he wants to maximize harm to Magisa and plans to sue him in civil court.
A police officer who responded to the incident also took the stand, testifying that the injured man was belligerent and running in and out of traffic when medics arrived, requiring police to handcuff him so he could receive medical attention. The complaining witness also appeared hostile throughout the trial, repeatedly refusing to take documents from the public defender’s hand.
Wilson said the jury was ultimately convinced that Magisa acted reflexively to defend himself.
“The complaining witness was a bully who had injured people again and again. Mr. Magisa is a kind and gentle man, but he wasn’t going to allow himself to be hurt again,” Wilson said.
Adachi said the verdict allows Magisa, who had no criminal record, to clear his name.
“Standing up for yourself against a person known for violence is not a crime,” Adachi said. “Luckily for Mr. Magisa, his public defender was able to prove to the jury that he was acting in self defense that evening.”