Wednesday, January 9, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A 48-year-old man with no criminal history was cleared of vehicle tampering and vandalism charges after a jury determined he was the victim of mistaken identity, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours Tuesday before acquitting Mannuel Griffin of San Francisco of both misdemeanor charges, said Griffin’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Chesa Boudin.
Griffin’s trouble began on July 6 at nearly 3 a.m., when the Tenderloin resident decided to walk a few blocks from his apartment to Carl’s Jr. in order to purchase a strawberry shake. As he traveled on Jones Street toward Market Street, he heard the sound of glass breaking and saw a man rifling through a Jeep. Not wanting to get involved, Griffin continued walking. The Jeep, which belonged to a dancer at a nearby strip club, was robbed of $1,400 in cash, a Louis Vuitton wallet, a large wicker bag and numerous items of women’s clothing, the 30-year-old Hayward woman later told police.
Across Jones Street, a DJ was walking home from his shift at a nightclub. He also heard the sound of breaking glass and spotted Griffin walking away from the area. The DJ, a 30-year-old San Francisco man, testified he never took his eyes off of Griffin, following him to Carl’s Jr. while on the phone with a 911 operator.
Police responded and detained Griffin at Carl’s Jr., where Griffin told officers about witnessing the break-in, described the suspect, and consented to a search. Police found no stolen property, blunt instruments or broken glass on Griffin, officers testified during the three day trial. However, he was arrested for auto burglary after the witness identified him as the man he saw walking away from the Jeep. The charges were later reduced to misdemeanor vehicle tampering and vandalism.
During the trial, the DJ testified that while he was certain Griffin was the man he followed, he did not actually see him breaking into the vehicle.
While Griffin and the man who broke into the Jeep are both African American, the similarity ended there. Griffin described the auto burglar to police as 5’7” with dreadlocks. Griffin is 6”2 and clean cut.
“The witness was honest and credible. He was trying to do the right thing. He admitted on the stand that he had significant doubt that Mr. Griffin was the person who broke the car window,” Boudin said.
The fact that Griffin consented to a police search and did not have any stolen property in his possession helped jurors reach their verdict. There were no fingerprints, DNA evidence or video linking Griffin to the crime.
“A big hole in the case became, ‘Where’s all the stuff?’” Boudin said. “The witness testified he never took his eyes off Mr. Griffin, so Mr. Griffin could not have dropped the stolen items on his way to the restaurant. Police found nothing suspicious when they searched him. Mr. Griffin had nothing to hide,” Boudin said.
Adachi said justice was served in the case.
“Mr. Griffin was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, the jury realized there was no real evidence against Mr. Griffin and cleared his name.”