Man Receives Two Years of Probation in 2022 Bus Chokehold Death

MTS Homicide
The scene of the alleged homicide in East Village Saturday night. Credit: OnScene.TV

A man who caused fatal injuries to another passenger aboard an MTS bus in downtown San Diego by placing him in a chokehold was sentenced Friday to two years of probation.

Edward Hilbert, 56, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the April 30, 2022, death of 28-year-old Anthony McGaff. Hilbert’s sentence includes a suspended one-year term in county jail, which means it will be served if he violates the terms of his probation.

According to San Diego police, a “violent disturbance” aboard a bus in the area of 1400 F Street left McGaff unresponsive. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

San Diego police said McGaff “became involved in an altercation with a female passenger” on the bus, and Hilbert intervened by restraining McGaff for “several minutes.”

During that time, McGaff “lost consciousness, went into medical distress and ultimately died,” San Diego police Lt. Steve Shebloski said.

At Hilbert’s sentencing hearing, McGaff’s parents, James Smith and Angela McGaff, pushed back against the notion that Hilbert was acting in defense of the female passenger.

They filed a lawsuit late last year in which they alleged the woman antagonized McGaff by recording him with her cell phone without his permission.

The woman refused to stop filming him and when McGaff tried to grab the woman’s phone, the much physically larger Hilbert placed him in a chokehold and held onto him for around eight minutes, their lawsuit alleges.

At the sentencing hearing, Smith said, “The problem here is this idea that you were a Good Samaritan. This is a joke. … You ambushed my son. You held him in a chokehold on the ground with your body weight on top of him for eight long minutes.”

Angela McGaff, who described her son as “my one and only child, as well as my best friend,” said, “All I have are memories of the past and thoughts about his final moments on Earth and what they must have felt like.”

The lawsuit, which names the Metropolitan Transit System and the city of San Diego as defendants, alleges the bus driver refused to stop the bus or call 911 while McGaff was being restrained despite other passengers pleading for intervention.

Hilbert was initially arrested on suspicion of murder, but prosecutors did not immediately file charges in the case. He was charged about two months later with involuntary manslaughter.

Hilbert’s current defense attorney, Domenic Lombardo, declined to comment after the sentencing hearing. His previous attorney, Heather Boxeth, described the incident at a different court hearing as “a tragic accident” and said Hilbert was “aiding in defense of a woman being attacked.”