Thursday, July 21, 2011 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A jaywalker facing five years in prison after defending himself against police brutality was found not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon against an officer and resisting arrest, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated two hours Wednesday afternoon before acquitting Benjamin King, 35, of San Francisco, of all charges.
King, who had no criminal record and worked two jobs as a barber and a delivery company employee, was arrested Aug. 23, 2009 as he commuted home from Oakland at 10 p.m. King had just stepped out of the Powell Street BART station and crossed Market Street outside of the crosswalk when a patrol car made a U-turn and two police officers advanced toward him.
“He was confused as to why he was being detained,” said King’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Mel Santos. “Mr. King saw no citation book. One of the officers grabbed him and Mr. King thought it must be a case of mistaken identity.”
King pulled away from the officer, Santos said, and when being told he was being detained for jaywalking, he expressed shock. He asked police to take their hands off him and have a conversation with him instead. King, who had enjoyed an after-work drink with a coworker, was told by police he smelled of alcohol and “was going to jail.”
One of the police officers then hit King with a baton with such force that the 36-inch weapon broke in half over King’s knee. One of the pieces of the baton landed in King’s hand and he instinctively struck back, hitting the officer in the neck before dropping the weapon, Santos said.
The other police officer then put King in a cartoid restraint, choking him into unconsciousness before handcuffing him, Santos said.
King was charged and released from jail on the condition he would attend anger management classes. He completed 65 classes despite never before having been accused of an anger problem, Santos said.
During King’s trial, both officers testified that they saw King walking outside the crosswalk and decided to “take him on.”
“They were using combat language—as if they were patrolling in Iraq instead of watching commuters near Union Square,” Santos said.
King is African American, though it wasn’t determined at trial whether race played a factor in his detention. Neither officer gave an explanation on why King was targeted while jaywalking goes mostly unenforced in San Francisco.
King also took the stand, along with his father and coworker, who testified to King’s gentle demeanor. Santos also presented evidence that the two officers violated SFPD protocol governing the use of force. The policy mandates that officers use less severe options such as pepper spray and neck restraint before resorting to batons.
Adachi commended the jury’s decision.
“This was a clear case of self-defense against excessive force,” Adachi said. “Once police violated their own rules, their actions against Mr. King became unlawful. Mr. King was protecting himself against being more seriously hurt.”