Wednesday, May 1, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — An Iraq war veteran with no criminal record was acquitted of punching a 66-year-old woman during a chaotic dance floor melee, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Tuesday afternoon deliberated less than 30 minutes before finding Juan Olmedo, 34, not guilty of assault with force to cause great bodily injury. Olmedo faced a year in jail if convicted of the charge, which had been reduced from a felony following a preliminary hearing in August, 2012, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien.
Olmedo, a Marine since 1998, was home on leave when the Sept. 11, 2011 incident occurred just after midnight at La Terraza bar at Mission and Cortland streets. Olmedo and his sister were celebrating their birthdays at the bar with their mother, two other siblings and Olmedo’s girlfriend, while family friends performed in a band.
When Olmedo’s mother tried to break up a fight between two women, a male patron pushed her to the floor. Olmedo and his brother rushed in to protect their mother and a large melee ensued, involving at least five men. Some revelers tried to break up the fight, while others threw bottles, prompting numerous calls to 911. Among the injured was the 66-year-old woman, who suffered a black eye and facial bruising in the brawl.
The woman told a responding officer that she was dancing when she was punched in the right eye by a man in his early 20s wearing a red 49ers jersey and shorts. She said she had never seen the man before, but could identify him if she saw him again.
Olmedo was wearing a gray and white San Francisco Giants jersey at the time of the incident.
The following day, accompanied by her daughter, the woman went to the police station and changed her story. She reported that she knew the man who punched her and identified him as Olmedo. She was friendly with Olmedo’s mother and sisters, she told police, and had met Olmedo at barbecues, family gatherings and previously at La Terraza.
Olmedo voluntarily came to the police station and cooperated fully with investigators. He said he did not believe he had any contact with the woman, but conceded that the bar was small and the fight was chaotic, and may have accidentally injured her without being aware. He was arrested.
During the two day trial, prosecution witnesses gave wildly conflicting stories. The responding officer, called by Lilien, testified that the complaining witness appeared positive she did not know her assailant. A regular at the bar, and friend of the complaining witness, testified that she saw the man who hit her friend, describing him as wearing black pants and a black shirt and having longer than average hair and a goatee. Olmedo had a military haircut and was clean shaven at the time of the incident. Under cross examination, the woman admitted that the complaining witness had pointed out Olmedo at the August hearing and told her to identify him as the attacker.
The complaining witness also changed her story on the stand. On numerous occasions, she had been adamant that her attacker wore a red 49ers jersey, describing it to the responding officer, the police inspector and the preliminary hearing judge. At trial, however, she testified she was unsure what her attacker wore.
Lilien said it appeared that the woman was convinced to change her story after hearing input from other bar regulars and from family members who were not present during the incident.
“It’s unfortunate this woman was injured in the melee, however, this case never should have gone to trial,” Lilien said. “It was prosecution by gossip. Luckily, our defense investigator was able to track down honest witnesses.”
Innocent people suffer when prosecutors pursue cases without sufficient evidence, Adachi said.
“Mr. Olmedo has, by all accounts, lived an exemplary life. It made no sense to believe he brutally beat an elderly acquaintance. In addition, nothing about his appearance matched the description of the man who injured the complaining witness,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, it didn’t take the jury long to see the many problems in the case.”