San Francisco, CA — A 22-year-old man arrested for setting a dumpster fire in the chaotic hours after the San Francisco Giants clinched the 2012 World Series has been acquitted of arson and battery on an officer, Deputy Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
After deliberating four hours, a jury on Thursday afternoon found Oakland resident Brian Irwin not guilty of arson, a felony, and battery on an officer, a misdemeanor. If convicted, he faced four years in prison, a “strike,” and lifetime registration as an arsonist, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Peter Santina. Irwin was convicted of misdemeanor resisting arrest for running from police.
Irwin, a college student on leave with no criminal record, was arrested in the early hours of Oct. 29, 2012 as police were attempting to clear thousands of rowdy fans from the streets surrounding the ballpark.
Prosecutors alleged Irwin yelled an expletive and extended his middle finger toward a police skirmish line at Third and Harrison streets before running northbound on Third Street toward downtown, stopping minutes later to set fire to the contents of a dumpster. Police chased Irwin through Yerba Buena Gardens, tackling him in the bushes in the median of Mission Street and bloodying his face. Prosecutors alleged a handcuffed Irwin intentionally spit blood in an officer’s face.
Three police officers testified during the two week trial, offing wildly conflicting accounts of Irwin’s alleged conduct. The first officer testified that while he did not witness Irwin light the fire, he saw Irwin atop the dumpster, fanning the flames. The second officer testified that he witnessed Irwin bent down in the area where the fire erupted from the bin. The third officer testified he witnessed Irwin roll the dumpster into the street, overturn it, ignite the spilled garbage and fan the flames.
Six months after the incident, the same officer said he did not see Irwin lighting any fires and could not remember what Irwin was wearing. At the trial, however, he changed his story, describing Irwin’s clothing in detail and stating that he did witness him lighting a fire. The officer explained that his memory “had grown stronger” over time.
Irwin was not in possession of a lighter or matches or cigarettes. His clothing did not smell like smoke, nor was it charred, Santina said.
Dr. Kathy Pezdek, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and an expert in eyewitness identification, testified about how the effects of time, perception and memory can produce unreliable identifications.
“To say it was a chaotic and confusing night for police would be an understatement,” Santina said. Before the night was over, several dozen people would be arrested, bonfires of trash would be lit in intersections around the city, cars would be overturned and a Muni bus would be torched.
Irwin’s friend also took the stand, testifying that Irwin jumped on the dumpster to dance and had nothing to do with setting fires. The friends were there to celebrate, not to cause destruction, she testified.
Jurors rejected the claim that Irwin purposefully spit on the officer after the officer described being splattered with blood after a handcuffed Irwin, in an apparent effort to breathe, forcefully inhaled and exhaled through his injured nose.
Irwin’s case highlights how easily mistakes can occur, Adachi said.
“There was zero physical evidence that Mr. Irwin lit anything on fire. The charges were based solely on the memories and perceptions of three police officers working under extremely confusing conditions. Fortunately, Mr. Irwin’s public defender was able to expose the shaky, conflicting accounts of the night,” Adachi said.