Wednesday, April 18, 2012 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A father accused of spinning ‘donuts’ with his car before plunging the vehicle into the Bay and a moped-rider charged with head-butting a Lexus driver were acquitted in separate cases Tuesday afternoon, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jury members deliberated less than two hours before finding Agapito Hernandez, 38, of San Francisco, not guilty of child endangerment, reckless driving and giving false information to an officer, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kimberly Lutes-Koths. Hernandez was acquitted of a fourth misdemeanor charge, driving without a license, by the judge.
Hernandez was arrested March 4 after his SUV plunged into the frigid waters near the Gashouse Cove Marina. Hernandez, his two teenage sons and their friend were inside the vehicle but escaped injury. The foursome had finished a late-night crabbing trip when Hernandez tried to back out of his parking space, he testified. When the car wouldn’t move, Hernandez hit the gas harder and the SUV spun out of control. His brakes, which had given him minor problems in the past, failed to work. Hernandez spun the car in one-and-a-half circles to avoid hitting anything, then lost control. The SUV went over the sidewalk and into the Bay.
At the two-day trial, a witness who helped the family out of the water testified that although he used the word “donuts” to the responding police officer, he only saw the car spun in one-and-a-half circles. Hernandez’s sons also testified that the incident was an accident, not reckless driving.
Hernandez, who has no criminal record, told responding officers that he had been having brake trouble, but police never investigated the mechanical mishap. There were no signs on the ground that the car had been doing donuts.
“Mr. Hernandez is a sweet, honest family man,” Lutes-Koths said. “It’s sad he had to go through an arrest and trial because police never attempted to investigate whether this was an accident.”
In the second victory for San Francisco public defenders Tuesday, a jury acquitted engineering student Tarek Oueslati, 34, of San Francisco, of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, battery and assault. A driving on a suspended license charge was dismissed mid-trial.
Oueslati was arrested Aug. 3, 2011 following a road rage incident in downtown San Francisco sparked by accidentally cutting off a Lexus with his moped. The Lexus driver, an attorney, began honking furiously at Oueslati as the men drove up Sutter Street. As they approached a red light at Franklin Street, the driver got out of his car and confronted Oueslati, said Oueslati’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kevin Mitchell.
After yelling at Oueslati, the motorist got back into his vehicle. The driver claimed Oueslati then spit through the Lexus’ open window as the light turned green — an accusation Oueslati denied. The man swung open his car door, hitting Oueslati’s moped, then pushed him in the chest with both hands, Oueslati testified.
Oueslati told the jury he then head-butted the man once with his helmet in self-defense. When the driver sought medical treatment weeks later, he learned he suffered a detached retina that required surgery to repair.
During the weeklong trial, jurors heard testimony from a police officer who had been conducting a traffic stop nearby. The officer claimed he did not see any spit, but that Oueslati head-butted the Lexus driver twice. A passenger of the motorist who was being pulled over by the officer also took the stand, testifying that a bus blocked both his and the officer’s views of the confrontation.
“Mr. Oueslati maintained his innocence from the beginning,” Mitchell said. “In fact, he begged police officers to get the footage from the camera mounted nearby, but they refused.”
Adachi said the two victories illustrated the need to look beneath the surface of criminal allegations.
“After our office investigated these cases, it became clear these were not crimes, simply a car accident and a case of self-defense,” Adachi said. “What sometime appears to be a crime turns out to be an unfortunate circumstance where no criminal intent existed.”