Public Defenders Free Five After Jury Trials

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San Francisco, CA — Public defenders secured a stunning five acquittals in less than a week, including a man charged in a car wash scuffle and a skateboarder accused of assaulting two off-duty police officers, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.

Jury members reached the not guilty verdicts in separate trials from Tuesday, Jan. 18 to Monday, Jan. 24.

Monday: San Francisco resident Will Thomas, 46, was found not guilty of criminal threats, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, simple battery and destroying a communication device.

The charges stemmed from an Oct. 21 argument with a woman who claimed he parked incorrectly at a Potrero Hill self-service car wash, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ariel Boyce-Smith.  The woman testified that she put a garbage can next to his car after he ignored her demands to leave. She accused Thomas of kicking over the can and threatening her, which Thomas denied. The woman further claimed Thomas sprayed car wax in her direction and, when she tried to take a photo of him, snapped a chamois at her hand, causing her phone to drop to the ground and break. Finally, the woman claimed Thomas grazed her leg with his car as he exited the car wash, though she had no visible injuries, Boyce-Smith said.

“The jury simply did not find the complaining witness’ testimony credible,” Boyce-Smith said.

Wednesday: William Johnson, 43, was found not guilty of possession of a controlled substance. Johnson, who is homeless, was arrested Oct. 20 after a police officer claimed to witness him throwing methamphetamine on the floor inside a Carl’s Jr., said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Brian Pearlman. While Johnson maintained his innocence, a second suspect who was questioned and released was arrested for methamphetamine possession two days later, Pearlman said. In addition, the jury determined that from the officer’s vantage point, it was unlikely he could have witnessed Johnson throw anything, according to Pearlman.

Thursday: Jurors acquitted San Francisco resident Matthew Hoyt, 23, of two counts of battery stemming from a June 26 altercation with two off-duty police officers as Hoyt was riding his skateboard to the Pride festivities in the Civic Center area, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Walter McMath.

As Hoyt traveled down Turk Street, a car began honking furiously behind him, he testified. Hoyt responded with a vulgar gesture as he crossed to the other side of the road. The driver and passenger, who were off-duty police officers, traveled parallel to Hoyt and began arguing with the skateboarder, McMath said. The men then abruptly cut across several lanes toward Hoyt, nearly running him off the road, McMath said. Hoyt, who believed the men had crossed over to fight him, punched the driver through his open window and rode off.

The passenger then chased Hoyt as the driver cut him off with his car, causing him to fall off his skateboard. Hoyt testified he dodged the passenger’s open arms and punched him once before the men identified themselves as police officers and arrested him.

During the three-day trial, a Santa Rosa man described a similar road rage encounter in San Francisco with the passenger, Officer John Anton, in July, 2008. The witness testified that as he made a legal right turn, Anton, who was beside him on a motorcycle, began yelling and kicking his car. Anton followed the frightened motorist to Novato, making an obscene gesture before driving off, the driver testified. The following day, the man was pulled over in San Francisco. Anton appeared at the scene moments later, pushed him against a wall and arrested him. The district attorney later dropped charges against the motorist.

The jury deliberated three hours before clearing Hoyt of all charges.

Also on Thursday, jurors determined a 47-year-old Cotati man was not masturbating when a citizen saw his hands moving inside his pants as he stood on a Tenderloin corner. The citizen accused Huey Roundtree of looking at a 10-year-old child who sat in a parked van nearby.  Roundtree faced lifetime registration as a sex offender if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Ruggiero. Following the three-week trial, jurors determined Roundtree, who has no history of crimes against children, had instead been attempting to retrieve his heroin.

Tuesday, Jan. 18: Jurors acquitted a homeless man, 44-year-old Shedrick Jackson, of punching his girlfriend in the face during a Nov. 24 altercation on Eighth and Mission streets. He was arrested after a motorist with a partially-obscured view told police he saw Jackson punch the woman in the side of the face and the two tumble to the ground in front of his car.

“What he saw, unfortunately, was a snapshot in time with no context,” said Jackson’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Emily Dahm.

Jackson’s girlfriend testified she was drunk that day and began beating Jackson because she thought he had been flirting with a female security guard. She testified that, during the argument, she tripped over her sandals.  As Jackson was helping her up, she bit his finger, drawing blood. Jackson was taken to the hospital for his injured finger.

During the two-day trial, three witnesses from two homeless organizations testified that the complaining witness had been barred from their facilities for attacking Jackson.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi applauded the verdicts.

“To determine the truth, each side of the story must be told. These deputy public defenders made sure the juries heard all the evidence,” Adachi said.

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