A man accused of attacking two men in San Diego County — one an alleged hate crime — tried to get a diversion in court Friday, claiming the assaults were the result of trauma incurred after the death of his sister, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot to death by a police officer during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Lawyers for Roger Stefan Witthoeft Jr., 33, argued on Friday in San Diego that their client had a "momentary lapse in judgment" due to the trauma of his sister's widely broadcast death when he verbally attacked a Latino San Diego Gas & Electric Worker on Sept. 15, 2021. Prosecutors say he used racial slurs.
Witthoeft is also accused of attacking a 65-year-old man who was helping his disabled friend get out of a car in Ocean Beach on Jan. 13, 2022.
The defense lawyer asked a judge to grant Witthoeft a diversion, citing recent efforts toward sobriety and therapy, which would allow his client to complete court-mandated rehabilitation programs instead of facing criminal charges, as well as potential jail time or probation.
"Mr. Witthoeft recognizes that his lapse in judgment caused by trauma and anger does not write him a blank check for criminality. However, Mr. Witthoeft's trauma and anger provide the underlying causes to his actions and provide a basis for his rehabilitation, vastly increasing the likelihood that this incident was but a one-time occurrence," documents for the motion for a diversion said.
The defense suggested Witthoeft undergo 16 hours of anger management training and serve 24 hours of community service and sensitivity training .
The San Diego City Attorney's Office argued, though, that Witthoeft should not be granted a diversion because he has prior convictions for driving drunk and vandalism. The vandalism incident occurred in 2016 and involved a 71-year-old handicapped driver at a Lakeside parking lot, prosecutors said.
The judge denied the request for a diversion, stating that he saw a common theme in cases committed by Witthoeft dating back to 2016 and that "I just don’t find that you’re an appropriate candidate.”
2021 Incident involving an SDG&E Employee in Point Loma
Witthoeft is accused of attacking an SDG&E employee at a Point Loma intersection where workers were repairing a utility box on Sept. 15, 2021. Prosecutors say Witthoeft become "enraged" because the worker's truck was stopped in the intersection.
Witthoeft exited his vehicle — his lawyers say because he couldn't hear the SDG&E worker from inside his loud truck — and approached the employee. When the worker told Witthoeft the road was closed, Witthoeft told him to "talk in English you [expletive] immigrant" and "go back to your country," according to prosecutors.
Witthoeft then got back into his truck and revved his engine as he inched toward the worker, prosecutors said. He eventually left the scene after being approached by witnesses.
The defense said Witthoeft does not deny that he was in a verbal altercation with the employee but said that he did not become physical or use racial slurs.
Witthoeft pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in March and is slated to go to trial in June on charges of battery with a hate crime enhancement, as well as one count of violating the victim's constitutional rights by threat of force.
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2022 Attack on a Man Helping a Friend in Ocean Beach
Witthoeft is also accused of an attack on a man on Muir Avenue in Ocean Beach on Jan. 13, 2022, according to the San Diego City Attorney's Office. On Friday, he pleaded not guilty to charges of battery and vandalism in connection with the case.
Prosecutors said Witthoeft and his father were walking his neighborhood in Ocean Beach when he encountered a car blocking the sidewalk as a man helped his disabled friend out of the vehicle. While the man was unloading a wheelchair, Witthoeft became angry with the interference.
"Is that really what we're doing?" Witthoeft said to the victim, according to prosecutors, to which the victim replied, "She's handicapped so I need to get the wheelchair out." Witthoeft then replied, "What if I was handicapped?"
As the situation escalated, Witthoeft stood in the man's way. As the victim tried to get around, Witthoeft repeatedly told the victim, "Touch me, bro," prosecuting documents allege.
Witthoeft then punched the man, who fell backward, and stomped on the man's cell phone, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also allege Witthoeft was hostile to officers upon his arrest and hurled insults and sexual comments toward them.
2016 Attack on Handicapped Driver in Lakeside
Witthoeft was convicted of vandalism for an altercation with a 71-year-old man at a parking lot in Lakeside.
According to prosecutors, Witthoeft was blocking the driveway to a parking lot when the man waved him out of the way so he could park. After the driver parked in a handicapped spot, Witthoeft parked behind the vehicle, got out of his car and started kicking the door until the window fell out.
Witthoeft pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was placed on probation in 2018, prosecutors said.