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Tourist Acquitted Of Attacking SF Muni Driver Who Later Got Worker's Comp

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) - Surveillance video from a San Francisco Muni bus has exonerated a Southern California tourist accused of assaulting the bus driver, who received more than a year's worth of workers compensation for injuries he falsely claimed he received from the tourist.

25-year-old Victorville resident Matthew Lopez was found not guilty Tuesday of felony battery on the unidentified 64-year-old Muni driver in November of 2010. Lopez was in jail for three months before trial.

Lopez had boarded the 49 Mission bus while on crutches and with a broken leg, accompanied by his girlfriend, according to San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Lopez got into a confrontation with the driver after an argument with another passenger who apparently had been bumped by Lopez' girlfriend. The driver's 55-year-old sister - a passenger on the bus - also confronted Lopez's girlfriend, which let to a fistfight between the two women, according to Adachi.

As the women fought, Lopez pleaded with the driver to open the bus doors, said Adachi. Lopez then reached over the driver to press the button releasing the doors, prompting a scuffle between Lopez and the driver, said Adachi.

During the four-day trial, the Muni driver testified Lopez went into a rage, punched him in the face, bashed his head on the fare box and tried to break the doors off the bus.

However, the surveillance video from the bus showed none of the things the driver claimed and instead showed Lopez acting in self-defense, according to Lopez's attorney, Deputy Public Defender Seth Meisels.

"The video clearly showed that the passenger fell on his own," Meisels said. "It was the driver and his sister who escalated the situation and turned an accident into a fistfight."

The Muni driver collected worker's compensation for 14 months after saying he had lost three teeth and torn his rotator cuff in the incident, said Adachi.

But during the trial, Meisels produced dental records showing the driver was missing 12 teeth due to advanced periodontal disease before the incident, including two of the three he claimed were knocked out.

The driver admitted on the stand his rotator cuff was originally torn in a fight with another passenger in 2009, said Adachi.

On the surveillance footage, Lopez is heard telling the driver, "You know what you did. Your camera will show it. Your camera will show everything."

There is no word yet whether the unidentified Muni driver will face any sanctions. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose said told CBS San Francisco the agency was made aware of the ruling Wednesday, "but it would not be appropriate to comment any further at this time."

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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