Wednesday, September 4, 2013 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A husband falsely arrested after police mistook his embrace of his wife as spousal abuse has been cleared of domestic violence, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Friday afternoon found 30-year-old Carlos Munoz not guilty of one count of misdemeanor domestic violence, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Alexandra Pray. The jury hung on a count of resisting arrest, which was then dismissed by the district attorney. Munoz faced a year in jail if convicted.
The acquittal brings an end to a frustrating and painful legal odyssey for the Munozes, whose June 16 argument over a late night burrito stop escalated into an ordeal that ended with both husband and wife tackled by police.
Returning from a bar, the couple was blocks from their Mission District apartment when Munoz stopped into a local taqueria for a late night snack. His wife, who wanted to go straight home, became annoyed at Munoz’s pit stop and walked home by herself.
When Munoz returned to the apartment, the couple began arguing loudly over the burrito incident, prompting a neighbor to call 911. When two officers arrived, they listened to the verbal spat through the couple’s front door.
“At this point, Munoz was attempting smooth things over by putting his arms around his wife, kissing her and asking her not to be mad,’” Pray said.
Munoz’s wife, who was not ready to make up, said “stop.” Hearing that, police decided to intervene and stormed through the couple’s unlocked front door.
During the two-day trial, one of the officers described finding Munoz “embracing his wife from behind.” The officer commanded him to let go of the woman. Munoz complied.
Immediately, Munoz’s wife put her arms around him protectively and began crying, telling police not to take him away. Telling her she was interfering with an investigation, an officer forced her face to the floor, pulled her wrists behind her and put his knee into the small of her back, the officer testified.
As the woman cried out in pain and called her husband’s name, the other officer struggled to get Munoz into handcuffs. Munoz, whose torso was pinned by the officer, attempted to help his wife by moving his legs between her and the officer. He was arrested for domestic violence and resisting arrest. He spent one day in jail before posting bail.
Now separated, Munoz and his wife both told officers the same version of events , insisting their dispute was only verbal.
On the stand, Munoz’s wife recounted that police demanded she take off her bathrobe and show her nude body in order to prove she did not have any injuries. The woman, who suffered back pain after the encounter with police, testified that “the only person that hurt me that night was the officer.”
She testified that she later repeated her account of the night during a phone call with a prosecutor, stressing that nothing physical happened.
“Despite the lack of any evidence or injury, the district attorney pursued the case. One of the biggest questions in the jury room was why this case had even been charged,” Pray said.
Neither Munoz nor his wife had a criminal history of any kind, Pray noted.
Adachi commended the jury for listening to Munoz’s wife when police and prosecutors would not.
“There was absolutely no evidence of any sort of physical altercation, no history of violence in the relationship, and no reason to disbelieve Mrs. Munoz when she insisted she was not a victim of spousal abuse. Fortunately, 12 jurors and Mr. Munoz’s public defender were able to set things right,” Adachi said.
The neighbor who called 911 refused to cooperate in the case, Pray said.