Thursday, June 23, 2011 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — In three back-to-back trials, public defenders proved the innocence of three individuals accused in separate cases of hit and run, violating a protective order and theft, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
On Wednesday afternoon, a jury deliberated only 20 minutes before finding San Francisco resident Joshua Tranquilla, 29, not guilty of leaving the scene after hitting a city parking enforcement vehicle.
Tranquilla’s charge stemmed from a Jan. 4, 2011 incident in the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Tranquilla, who had pulled into a loading zone on Spruce Street to use his cell phone, was approached by the 28-year-old officer and told to vacate the spot. Tranquilla complied. As he made a legal u-turn on Spruce and Mayfair and headed northbound on Spruce, the officer made a sudden U-turn 6-10 feet in front of Tranquilla’s car.
Tranquilla slammed on his brakes and honked, but collided with the back of the officer’s 3-wheeled Interceptor at 5-10 miles per hour. Both men exited their vehicles, briefly argued and inspected for damage. Satisfied there was none, Tranquilla left. The officer later filled out a report with police and claimed back and neck pain. When contacted by the hit and run division the following day, Tranquilla returned for an interview.
During Tranquilla’s two-day trial, Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson presented a previous case involving the same officer falsely claiming he was injured on the job, and then applying for worker’s compensation. In 2008, a woman who had previously complained about harassment by the officer was tried for felony hit and run after the officer told police she ran over his foot. During her trial, surveillance footage revealed that the woman could not have run over the officer’s foot and the man’s doctor testified that the foot fractures were old and could not have been caused by the incident. That jury acquitted the motorist.
Before handing Tranquilla’s case to the jury, the judge dismissed a second charge against him – hit and run with injury. The jury then acquitted him of hit and run causing property damage. The prosecution could not prove that the minor dent in the Interceptor’s bumper was caused by the accident, Wilson said.
Wilson noted that the city’s Department of Parking and Traffic could not provide disciplinary records for the driver, claiming a computer glitch erased all complaints from 2008 and 2009. Department officials also could not provide complete maintenance records for the vehicle.
The victory came less than 24 hours after two additional not-guilty verdicts in misdemeanor cases.
In the first of Tuesday’s acquittals, a hospital security guard was found not guilty of stealing cash from a safe after jurors determined the burglary was committed by another employee who had taken the guard’s badge.
Security guard and longtime food bank volunteer Marley Bah, 37, of Stockton, was arrested April 23, 2010 when he started his shift at California Pacific Medical Center in Pacific Heights.
“Mr. Bah was stunned by the arrest,” said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Neva Tassan. “He had no criminal record and had been at his job two years. Unfortunately for him, someone had used his security badge to access the cashier’s office and steal $2,060.”
Video footage showed a masked man wearing gloves entering the cashier’s office the previous night. Security initially believed the thief to be another security officer, based on the man’s build, Tassan said. However, after access logs of the security system showed Bah’s badge was used, the investigation focused on Bah, who repeatedly told police he did not steal the money.
During his trial, Bah told the jury he returned to the security office during a break to find his badge, which had disappeared the previous night, pinned to the lost and found board.
Tassan argued that video footage of the exterior of the building was destroyed, the lockers in the security office were never searched, and no other security officers were interviewed as suspects. Also, evidence showed that 63 male security officers knew how to access the cashier’s office, the combination to the safe, and when other officers were working based on the CPMC bi-weekly security roster.
Finally, a jury on Wednesday found 47-year-old Fredricka Stamps of San Francisco not guilty of violating a restraining order.
“Jurors realized that the charges were due to the incompetence of law enforcement and Ms. Stamps did nothing wrong,” said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Ruggiero.
Stamps’ ordeal began April 23, 2011, when a relative with substance abuse problems lied to police, telling them that Stamps threatened to burn down her own home with her mother inside. Though Stamps was not even home at the time of the alleged incident, she was arrested for elder abuse and a temporary restraining order was issued. Charges were dropped three days later, when the district attorney determined there was no merit to the accusations.
“Ms. Stamps went home, believing the nightmare was over,” Ruggiero said. “However, police had never lifted the restraining order and she was arrested again while sleeping in her own home.”
Adachi praised jury members in all three cases for carefully weighing all the evidence.
“An innocent person being charged with a crime isn’t something that happens in the movies — it happens in real life, and here it happened to three people. Fortunately, the jurors reached the right result and corrected three terrible injustices,” Adachi said.