2012-06-21 / Front Page
Post-game puncher could face felony
Man accused in attack is CEO of Integrity First Mortgage Solutions
The recipient of a blind-side punch during an incident following a June 7 youth baseball game in Westlake Village wants the district attorney’s office to file felony battery charges against the man who hit him.
Michael Bateman, 53, says he was knocked unconscious by the blow he received from Lee Appleby of Thousand Oaks, causing him to fall and hit his head on the pavement, which led to a concussion.
Appleby, 48, says he was acting to protect his wife.
Bateman, a 30-year Conejo Valley resident with a chiropractic business in Thousand Oaks, was taken by ambulance to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center where he was treated and released the same night after undergoing a CT scan to make sure his jaw wasn’t broken.
“I was caught unaware. I was talking to someone else. I wasn’t even talking to this gentleman and he sucker-punched me,” Bateman told the Acorn.
The incident happened in front of a large group of people after a Westlake Baseball Association game played by 13- and 14-year-olds at Triunfo Community Park. Bateman was at the game to see his son play.
According to eyewitness Brad Haines, the father of a player on the same team as Bateman’s son, the trouble started as the two teams and their families exited the field and headed to their cars.
Haines said a fight broke out between a player on his son’s team and Appleby’s older son, a high school freshman who came to the game to watch his younger brother, a member of the opposing team.
As parents rushed in to break up the altercation, Haines said Appleby’s wife, Victoria, became visibly upset and began shouting.
“She started yelling at one of our parents who was helping to break (the fight) up, being aggressive, blaming our (player). . . . She put gas on the fire,” Haines said.
Bateman said he stepped in front of Victoria Appleby as she charged the mother of one of the players.
He tried to hold her back
“At that point I heard someone yell, ‘Don’t you touch my wife!’ and then I remember getting hit from behind, and the next thing I remember is waking up on the ground with blood gushing out of my nose,” Bateman said.
Haines called it a two-hit attack: “(Appleby) hit him, and (Bateman) hit the ground.”
Appleby, the CEO and founder of Integrity First Mortgage Solutions, said in an email to the Acorn that Bateman “began screaming at my wife, accosted her, grabbed both her arms at her wrists, twisted them outward while squeezing them . . . causing (her) severe pain.”
What Appleby did next was pure instinct, he said.
“Upon hearing my wife yelling at the then-unknown man, crying out for him to ‘let go’ and yelling for help, I ran to protect my wife and in her defense hit Mr. Bateman on the side of the face,” said Appleby, an assistant coach.
“Since then I have been approached by some other parents of players on my son’s team, and they offered me their support and insisted that I did nothing wrong by defending my wife’s safety,” he added.
Haines insists the punch was completely unprovoked.
“Dr. Bateman was just trying to break this up; he didn’t push anybody or hurt anybody,” Haines said. “(The punch) just came out of nowhere. It was a major surprise to everyone who was there.”
Sgt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said deputies who investigated the case and interviewed several witnesses determined that Appleby’s single punch did not rise to the level of felony battery, citing him instead with the lesser charge of misdemeanor battery.
But it will be the district attorney’s office that ultimately decides how to charge the case.
“Depending on the severity of the injuries, the D.A.’s office will have the discretion to adjust the charge. That’s not unusual in a case like this where (the district attorney) still has to see all the evidence,” said Buschow, referring to Bateman’s medical report, which wasn’t reviewed by Thousand Oaks police.
When deciding between misdemeanor and felony battery, the sergeant said, police look for specific types of injuries, including cuts where extensive suturing is required and broken bones, and whether or not a victim was knocked unconscious in the attack.
“If I (punch you and) give you a black eye and a bloody nose, then it’s a misdemeanor. If I shatter the orbital bone around your eye as a result of punching you, then it’s a felony,” Buschow said.
While Bateman contends he was knocked out momentarily, Haines said the victim and father of four was knocked down but not out.
“There was a fair amount of blood. . . . He didn’t get up, he just laid there, but he was talking,” Haines said. “He wasn’t completely knocked out, but he wasn’t fully conscious. He was in a fog.”
Bateman is asking eyewitness to come forward with statements and, if possible, video evidence.
“What I’d liked to do is ask if anyone in the public has a video or saw it happen,” Bateman said. “With all the people who have cellphones and cameras on their phones . . . I’m hoping maybe someone might have something and would be willing to come forward with the video.
“It’s not that I want to see myself get knocked out but to show the brutality of the attack and show the guy who did it.”
Buschow encouraged anyone with additional information about the fight to contact detectives at the Thousand Oaks Police Department.
Bateman told the Acorn he’s upset that he hasn’t been contacted by anyone with Westlake Baseball Association to check on his condition or to apologize. He also feels deputies didn’t investigate the incident thoroughly.
“It shouldn’t be my responsibility to make sure things get put in (the report), he said.
In his email, Appleby said he feels his actions were justified.
“Legal professionals and even law enforcement personnel with whom I have spoken unanimously agree that they would have reacted the same way,” he said.
Regardless of how the case is charged, Haines said the incident is a black eye on the community and should never have occurred.
“This has no place in our Westlake-Agoura society, especially in front of young people,” he said. “I’ve coached AYSO (soccer) and baseball for 12 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”