Trial starts in stabbing of 2 SD firefighters

Posted at 12:38 PM, Mar 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-14 22:31:11-04

SAN DIEGO - A man stabbed two San Diego firefighters who were tending to an intoxicated man at an East Village trolley station last year, a prosecutor said Monday, but a defense attorney said his client was trying to help the drunk man and stabbed the firefighters in self-defense after being pushed over a bench by a fire captain.

Ryan Allen Jones, 35, is charged with two counts each of attempted murder of a firefighter, assault with a deadly weapon and battery. He faces more than 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

Deputy District Attorney Steven Schott told a jury in his opening statement that firefighters Benjamin Vernon and Alex Wallbrett were just doing their jobs, responding to a medical-aid call around 4 p.m. June 24, 2015, when Jones stabbed them in a "brazen attack" that was "nothing short of pure violence."

Schott said Jones made a calculated decision to pull out a pocket knife, flip it open and attack the firefighters as they tried to help the intoxicated man at the trolley stop in the 500 block of Park Boulevard.

Most of the attack was caught on video.

Schott told the jury that at some point, Jones decided to get between a Metropolitan Transit System security guard and the drunk man, trying to help.

The security guard asked the defendant to step back and let the firefighters do their job, but Jones responded, "I'm a Marine, I do this every day," according to Schott.

The prosecutor told the jury that Fire Capt. Steven Michaels stepped on the defendant's foot and shoved him, prompting Jones to ask why the captain was trying to intimidate him.

Schott said Jones then attacked a security guard, who put the defendant in a headlock.

Jones then "bull-rushed" a guard and was "pepper-sprayed" by security personnel, according to the prosecutor.

Defense attorney Thomas Barr blamed the fire captain for starting the events that led to a 6-on-1 melee.

Barr said Jones, who had moved to San Diego from the Bay Area, was at the trolley stop after picking up some groceries at a nearby market.

The attorney said Jones saw a security guard roughing up the intoxicated man, giving him flashbacks to 2008, when he (Jones) had an incident with the Bay Area Rapid Transit police in which he was hit with a baton. Schott said Jones was convicted in Oakland of battery on a peace officer.

Barr said Jones was trying to keep the drunk man calm when Michaels shoved him to the ground.

The attorney told the jury that the fire captain had a "short fuse," alleging that Michaels had at one time punched his pregnant wife.

Once Jones was shoved to the ground, he fought with security guards and was "blinded" by pepper spray, his attorney said.

"He thought, this could be the end," Barr told the jury.