Thursday, May 2, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A San Francisco maintenance man falsely arrested after security guards mistook a piece of hardware he was holding for a weapon has been cleared of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Wednesday afternoon found Jose Guadarrama, 47, not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. Guadarrama faced a year in jail if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Julia Deutsch.
The afternoon of Jan. 19, Guadarrama, a longtime maintenance man with no history of violence, was on his way to replace a broken gas line with a new one. The faulty line was attached to a stove in a vacant unit in the O’Farrell Street apartment building where he lives and works. While looking for parking around Leavenworth and Geary streets, a man standing in the street suddenly slapped and kicked Guadarrama’s truck, claiming Guadarrama’s side view mirror grazed his buttocks. The two men briefly exchanged words. Guadarrama immediately parked around the corner on Geary.
Guadarrama got out of his car and walked toward the man to talk to him about whether he had been hit, and what happened. He had the replacement 3-foot long flexible stainless steel gas line with him. Before Guadarrama could even approach the man to initiate a conversation, one security guard tackled Guadarrama and shoved him to the ground, and another guard ran over and handcuffed him. One of the security guards assumed Guadarrama was about to swing the gas line at the man because he had witnessed the man slapping Guadarrama’s truck minutes earlier. Police arrived and took Guadarrama to jail, where he spent three days before being released on bail.
“This incident was a complete misinterpretation by the security guards. Mr. Guadarrama was on his way to work and had the gas line in his hand in order to make a repair. He was attempting to communicate with a man who had just accused him of hitting him with his truck as he drove by. He was unable to do so because the security guards simply threw him to the ground without asking any questions,” Deutsch said.
Police never took a statement from Guadarrama and relied solely on the word of the security guards, who at trial gave unclear accounts on whether and how Guadarrama actually swung the gas line. Jurors were convinced of Guadarrama’s innocence after hearing his testimony.
“The trial gave Mr. Guadarrama the opportunity to tell his side of the story,” Deutsch said. “The jurors saw the truth. This was a maintenance man who was simply on his way to work with a tool in his hand, and his actions were misperceived by hyper-vigilant security guards.”
The case illustrates how a misperception can snowball into serious consequences, Adachi said.
“Mr. Guadarrama was never given an opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding until he went to trial. Fortunately, the jurors believed him and he can now move on with his life.”