John Trizuto thought he was performing a civic duty when he saw two men in a fight involving a hammer last year and reported it to police. Now that deed has landed the Antioch resident in court.
The man who allegedly wielded the hammer in the incident, Paul Roberson, of Antioch, is suing Trizuto for $7,500.
When Trizuto saw two men fighting on March 16 in the middle of Lone Tree Way in Antioch, one armed with a hammer, he pulled over and called 911.
"If I see something, I try to help the police," Trizuto said.
Other drivers stopped, too, and when police officers arrived, they took statements from at least five people. According to police records, all said the same thing, including Trizuto: They saw Roberson get out of his car and swing a hammer at another man whose car had just hit Roberson's.
After that, Trizuto didn't think about the incident again until three weeks ago. That was when he was served with a small claims court summons. Roberson is claiming that Trizuto gave a false statement to police.
"There was nothing wrong with my statement," said Trizuto, frustrated that what began as a good deed will land him in a Pittsburg courtroom Wednesday. "The other people who gave statements, we all said the same thing."
According to police records, the incident began as road rage when a man cut off Roberson on G Street in central Antioch. It escalated until the man allegedly rammed Roberson's car at Lone Tree Way and Tregallas Road, and witnesses said they saw Roberson swing a hammer at him.
Both men were arrested on suspicion of using force with a deadly weapon, but no charges were filed.
Now Roberson is seeking $7,500 from each of five witnesses who told police they saw him swing the hammer. He says doctors will testify that previous injuries would have physically prevented him from making that motion.
"I couldn't even lift my arms," said Roberson, who in the lawsuit is seeking compensation for bail, along with the loss of his freedom and the effect on his mental and physical health.
He was contacted to appear on the Judge Judy Show but decided to arbitrate his cases locally. Roberson, who is African-American, says he plans to sue the Antioch Police Department at a later date for police misconduct and racial profiling.
Stanford law professor Robert Weisberg said he believes a judge will throw out the case because in 2004 the California Supreme Court ruled that witnesses cannot be sued for damages for making statements to police.
"If the statement was false, the person could be criminally prosecuted but not sued," Weisberg said.
Still, Trizuto said the situation is "like a kick in the stomach or something."
"I tried to pull over and do somebody a good deed," he said. "Nobody likes to have any kind of a court date hanging over them."