updated 12/15/2004 4:30:22 AM ET 2004-12-15T09:30:22

A 79-year-old retiree who tussled with a man half his age over the man’s foul language in a restaurant was sentenced to probation — but outside of that, he’s been treated more like a hero than a criminal.

Bill Stevenson said the fracas began in July when he and another retired 3M engineer, 74-year-old Sten Gerfast, were having coffee at a bagel shop. In walked 40-year-old Jesse Tabor, talking on a cell phone and liberally using four-letter words, the men said.

In an interview after the incident, Tabor said he didn’t recall cursing. But Stevenson and Gerfast remember it differently.

“There was an argument on the phone,” Stevenson said. “The third time he walked by our booth ... Mr. Gerfast said to me, ’Should I do something about it?”’

So Gerfast tapped Tabor on the shoulder and asked him to take his call outside, Stevenson said. But Tabor, who was with his 13-year-old daughter at the time, dismissed him. Stevenson said he got involved when Tabor continued to shout obscenities.

“I’ve been in lots of different places, but when I heard that kind of stuff coming in my hometown, I thought, ’Somebody’s got to do something,”’ Stevenson said.

Stevenson grabbed the phone from Tabor and the two men engaged in a few seconds of tug-of-war. Thinking better of it, Stevenson said he let go and Tabor “went sailing across the floor.”

'They're all on my side'
Stevenson pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct Tuesday and was given three months of probation. But even the lawyers at Ramsey County District Court were giving him thumbs-up signs as he left the courtroom, he said.

“I’ve had over 30 calls and letters and e-mails, and I’ve not had one negative call. They’re all on my side,” Stevenson said.

Gerfast was acquitted of disorderly conduct charges last month. Tabor failed to appear at a September hearing and a bench warrant was issued for him.

Stevenson claimed Tabor “mocked me about being an old man.”

“I just sat there and drank my coffee,” Stevenson said. “I thought, 'You can think what you want, mister, but a couple of senior citizens stood up to you, and we ought to get a little bit more respect.”’

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