2012-07-12 / Front Page

Youth baseball game puncher gets exonerated

By Kyle Jorrey

A youth baseball coach who punched out the father of an opposing player following a June game in Westlake Village won’t face criminal charges.

Lee Appleby, 48, of Thousand Oaks was cited and released by police June 7 for misdemeanor battery after he struck 53-yearold Michael Bateman in the head. Bateman allegedly grabbed Appleby’s wife by the wrists in a post-game fracas. Bateman, a local chiropractor who also lives in Thousand Oaks, had to be taken by ambulance to Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center where he was treated for a concussion and a cut on his face.

Despite the victim’s injuries, a Ventura County prosecutor decided last Friday not to file charges, saying he didn’t feel he could prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt because of conflicting stories from eyewitnesses.

“The Waves (team supporters) had one story and the people from the Sun Devils had another,” said Senior Dep. District Attorney Kim Gibbons, who was in charge of deciding whether or not to file charges. “When all was said and done, Mr. Appleby says he perceived that his wife was in danger and that she was being unlawfully touched by Dr. Bateman and that he went to his wife’s aid, and we didn’t feel we could disprove that.”

The incident started when a fight broke out between two boys— one of them Appleby’s son—in the parking lot of Triunfo Community Park following a Westlake Baseball Association game between 13- and 14-year-olds. According to Appleby, one of the players on the opposing team was swearing at his younger son, and Appleby’s older son came to his brother’s defense.

As parents rushed in to break up the altercation, Bateman stepped in front of Appleby’s wife, Victoria. Moments later, a bloodied Bateman was lying on the ground.

In order to win a conviction, the prosecution would have had to prove that Appleby didn’t feel his wife was being threatened, Gibbons said.

“We could not meet that burden,” the prosecutor said.

Had there been sufficient evidence, the significance of Bateman’s injuries could have possibly led to a felony charge, Gibbons said.

Stephen Bernard, Appleby’s defense attorney, said his client is pleased that he will not be facing charges but that he still feels convicted in the court of public opinion. Appleby is the president of a local mortgage firm, Integrity First Mortgage Solutions and a longtime Conejo Valley resident.

“The fact that he was even cited (by police) because of what certain witnesses said, it’s just been damning for his family and for his reputation in the community,” the attorney said. “A lot of people believe he is guilty without realizing there are two sides to every story.”

Bernard said Appleby has no criminal record, no history of violence, and would never have struck Bateman if the man hadn’t grabbed his wife first.

“There was no reason for him to have this reaction to this man besides his instinctual reaction to defend his wife,” the attorney said.

Last week, Waves team parent Brad Haines, who witnessed the fight, said Bateman only tried to prevent an enraged Victoria Appleby from entering the fray and making matters worse.

“Some witnesses corroborated (Mr. Bateman’s) story and some people corroborate Mr. Appleby’s tale of events,” Gibbons said.

“People have different perceptions of what they saw, especially in the heat of the moment.”

Bateman, a married father of four, could not be reached for comment.

Asked if his client felt remorse for the incident, Bernard said yes.

“If Lee had to do it all over again, his reaction would have been different, but in the moment people don’t have time to deliberate; it’s instantaneous,” Bernard said. “He certainly regrets hurting this man, but if he had done anything criminal, if they had any proof, (the district attorney) would have filed charges.”

He called the fight “an unfortunate incident for the whole community” but asked that his client be given the opportunity to restore his reputation.

“Lee’s been left ostracized in the community because of what people read and not what really happened,” Bernard said. “That’s sad.”

Gibbons, a veteran Ventura County D.A., said he hopes his decision not to file charges isn’t seen as an endorsement of Appleby’s actions. Instead, he hopes the incident serves to discourage other parents from behaving badly at their children’s sporting events.

“If it were me, I’d be careful about doing stuff like this . . . because it could land you in jail.”

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