Friday, February 5, 2010 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA— A San Francisco man was acquitted of a felony drug possession charge Thursday afternoon after a jury determined he was unaware that a cookie tin contained crack when he picked it up to use as a water bowl for his puppy.
Michael Dabney, 44, was found not guilty of possession of a controlled substance following a four-day trial. The jury deliberated for an hour and a half before reaching its verdict.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in state prison.
Dabney’s legal saga began March 25, 2009, after leaving his Tenderloin residence to enjoy an afternoon walk with his puppy. After walking uphill and running for part of their journey, Dabney’s puppy appeared thirsty. Dabney spotted a cookie tin near a trash can and picked it up to use as a dog dish. He then headed to a nearby market on Ellis and Jones to buy a bottle of water to fill the tin.
Outside of the store, he ran into a friend, who was accompanied by a woman. The three chatted for a few moments before Dabney opened the tin to dispose of its contents in a nearby garbage can.
At that moment, a motorcycle officer rode up to Dabney and asked what was in the tin.
Police testified Dabney was cooperative. He quickly handed over the tin and replied “I don’t know. Cookies?”
Police discovered a small bag of crack cocaine mixed among numerous white cookie wrappers and one broken butter cookie. Dabney’s female acquaintance was handcuffed and searched after an officer claimed she had drugs in her bra. None was found. Police also found no drugs, drug paraphernalia or large amounts of cash on Dabney or his friend.
“Innocent people are sometimes arrested for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The police officer saw Mr. Dabney for 15 seconds and assumed he was guilty. He was wrong,” said Dabney’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sangeeta Sinha. “Whatever it may have looked like, Mr. Dabney’s intention was simply to give his dog some water.”
While under cross examination by Sinha, the arresting officer testified that he observed Dabney mere seconds, and part of that time was through his peripheral vision. On the witness stand, the officer provided several details that contradicted the narrative of his police report, such as who was looking into the tin and how the trio was standing.
Mr. Dabney also took the stand. His story remained consistent throughout intense cross-examination.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the case illustrates the importance of a jury system.
“It takes very little evidence to justify an arrest. We count on a jury to look at the whole picture. In this case, Mr. Dabney couldn’t possess what he didn’t know he had,” Adachi said.