San Juan Bautista – Back then, they called it the “Battle of the Badges.”

It was March of 1987 when 25-year-old San Juan Bautista Fire Chief George Dias Jr. and his brother mixed it up with one of the city’s reserve police officers in a brawl that spilled out of Doña Esther’s bar onto Franklin Street.

Dias was suspended from the volunteer department for two weeks, and the colorful San Juan Bautista Police Chief Lonny Hurlbut suspended himself for three days, despite being in another part of the restaurant when the fight broke out, the Free Lance reported at the time.

No one was charged in connection with the fight.

Dias’ attorney, Larry Biegel, said that if Dias had done anything wrong during the 1987 fight, he would have been prosecuted. Dias did not return calls this week seeking comment.

“I don’t know anything about it,” Biegel said. “I’m aware something happened, but he was never prosecuted.”

More than 20 years later, Dias, now a 46-year-old San Juan Bautista city councilman, has been charged in connection with an April incident involving several San Benito County sheriff’s deputies at a trailer fire on Mission Vineyard Road in San Juan Bautista. Dias will head to trial in November on a misdemeanor charge of resisting a peace officer causing serious injury.

On April 14, deputy Jason Leist placed Dias under arrest and, along with another deputy, fell into nearby shrubs, the Sheriff’s Office reported. Leist suffered cuts to his head.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, when Leist asked Dias to move out of the road for firefighting equipment, the councilman told the deputy: “Go get a real cop. I am not moving.”

Biegel claimed in court documents filed in July that Leist used “excessive force” in arresting Dias.

An investigation by then-San Juan Bautista City Administrator Onofre Contreras into the 1987 fight showed that Dias had been drinking with his brother in the Doña Esther bar shortly after midnight on March 28, 1987, the Free Lance reported.

“Alcohol was involved,” Contreras said on April Fool’s Day, 1987. “There wasn’t anything logical about the whole affair.”

Police officers attempted to lead Dias out of the bar after getting into an altercation with another man, according to Contreras’ investigation and police reports. San Juan Bautista reserve police officer James Quinn, who was off duty, grabbed Dias’ arm while he and another officer escorted him out of the bar, according to the report.

Punches were thrown, and once outside the bar Dias attempted to walk home, according to the report. Dias refused to enter a Sheriff’s Office patrol car at 12:30am, telling the deputies, “I’m gonna make you guys earn your money,” the Free Lance reported.

Deputies shocked Dias with a stun gun, the Free Lance reported.

San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho, who worked with Dias at the Hollister Fire Department at the time, accompanied the San Juan Bautista volunteer fire brigade out for drinks after a Friday training session, he said.

“That night I remember distinctly,” Botelho said.

Botelho said he left before the fight broke out, but the story of the brawl was big news, reaching his mother in Hawaii and friends in England.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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