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I was protecting lives, Baron tells court

The trial of a man accused of assaulting Junior National Security Minister Jeff Baron began yesterday with the senator telling the court that he was attempting to stop the defendant from driving drunk.

Victor Moore Johnston, 46, of Hamilton Parish, has denied a charge of assaulting Sen Baron outside of the Swizzle Inn last September.

As the trial began yesterday, Sen Baron told the court that on the evening of the incident, he had gone to the Hamilton Parish restaurant with two friends.

While there, he said he heard loud cursing from another table, where the defendant was seated with three other adults, a child and a toddler. He described the language as “fun yelling” rather than anything aggressive.

As the senator's group were settling their bill, he noticed the defendant walking out, holding the toddler in a child seat. Sen Baron said the man was walking with a “wobble”, which, combined with the slurring of his voice, made him believe that he was impaired. The former police officer testified that he approached the car that Mr Johnston was driving and knocked on the door, telling the defendant that he was drunk and that he should take a taxi home.

He told the court that the defendant responded: “F*** you, I'm going to kick your f***ing a**.” Sen Baron said the defendant reached for the gear shift to drive away, so he reached in with his right hand and turned the key, stopping the engine. Mr Johnston then attempted to get out of the car, but Sen Baron used his body to keep the door shut.

After a few seconds, a security guard came to the area and Sen Baron moved from the door. The defendant then got out of the car, took several steps toward him and lunged forward, punching the senator in the face.

Sen Baron said he swung his arm around the defendant's head, pulling both of them to the ground, where Mr Johnston continued to punch him. He was eventually able to get to his feet, at which point he heard the security guard telling the defendant to leave. Sen Baron then went to the defendant's car and pulled out the keys.

For the next several minutes, he said that both the security guard and Mr Johnston demanded that he hand over the keys, but the senator responded that he had been assaulted and would give the keys to the police when they arrived.

Sen Baron said the security officer attempted to pry the keys from his hand, and at one stage slammed him headfirst into the hood of the defendant's car, but he held on to the keys until officers arrived.

On cross-examination by defence lawyer Charles Richardson, Sen Baron said that he was not thinking about if he had the right to stop Mr Johnson from driving away; he wanted only to keep Mr Johnston and his family safe.

“I didn't care whether I had the legal right,” he said. “I was protecting the lives of the people.”

He denied having more than a single drink himself during his time at the restaurant and said that he was unaware that the defendant suffered a broken back ten years ago that causes him to walk with a “wobble”.

Mr Richardson also challenged Sen Baron about his version of the fight, suggesting that Mr Johnston never threatened him and that the senator had thrown the only punch. “I suggest to you that he was about to push you when you cocked your fist and swung a haymaker,” Mr Richardson said. “You swung with a closed fist, not him.”

Sen Baron said the suggestion was incorrect, and that he had only thrown his arm around Mr Johnson's head to pull him closer.

Mr Richardson also questioned Sen Baron as to why he approached Mr Johnston rather than going to the security officers. “You decided to go straight over there like Captain America without looking for security,” he said.

Sen Baron responded: “I was focused on a man whom I believed was intoxicated operating a motor vehicle with a female and a toddler inside the vehicle. I was concerned for his and their safety and decided to approach him and prevent him from driving.”

The trial continues.

Senator Jeff Baron (File photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published March 03, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2015 at 8:21 am)

I was protecting lives, Baron tells court

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