WALNUT CREEK -- A 51-year-old Walnut Creek contractor has pleaded not guilty to charges that he held a day laborer captive and robbed him in a Lafayette house in October.
Defendant Tod Morton appeared in a Walnut Creek courthouse Friday on felony charges of false imprisonment and second-degree robbery in connection with an Oct. 15 incident that police and prosecutors are describing as "bizarre."
Morton declined to speak to this newspaper after his arrest. His attorney, Michael Markowitz, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Morton, who has no criminal record, picked up a 42-year-old day laborer outside a Concord hardware store and brought him to a house on Lucas Court in Lafayette, where he serves as a caretaker. The homeowners were out of town that day.
Morton had the laborer do some yard work before bringing him inside to a storage room, where he instructed him to dust off wine bottles, and then left the room, senior deputy district attorney Bruce Flynn said.
Morton returned wearing a holstered gun and police badge and accused the Spanish-speaking man of being in the United States illegally, Flynn said. Morton allegedly handcuffed the man, searched him and stole his cellphone.
Flynn said Morton also tried to force the victim to drink an unknown pink liquid, but the victim refused.
Morton left the victim in the room and was rummaging through a hall closet when the still-handcuffed man escaped. He was running from the property, shoeless and yelling for help, and was being chased by Morton when he was helped by a couple of neighbors who had been outside unloading groceries, Flynn said.
The prosecutor said any theories on what Morton had planned to do with the man are "pure speculation."
"The defendant claims that the victim had tried to commit a residential burglary, and he was thwarting the burglary," Flynn said. "I believe the victim."
Lafayette police recommended that Morton also be charged with kidnapping and impersonating a police officer. Flynn said he didn't file those charges because the victim never believed that Morton was a real officer, and because the victim voluntarily accompanied Morton to Lafayette.
Investigators are having the pink liquid tested, and the results could potentially lead to more charges against Morton, Flynn said.
Morton is out of custody in lieu of $125,000 bail. He returns to court Jan. 25 to schedule his preliminary hearing.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.