Tuesday, October 28, 2014 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A young homeless man who was punched and kicked by officers after refusing to stop for questioning has been acquitted of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Monday afternoon acquitted Joshua Boling, 22, of eight felonies—two counts of assault on an officer, one count of brandishing a knife on an officer, and five counts of resisting arrest. Boling, who had no previous history of violence, faced up to 11 years and eight months in prison and three strikes if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong.
San Francisco Police Department bicycle officers were on routine patrol in the Panhandle area of Golden Gate Park on July 11 when they spotted a familiar homeless woman sitting alongside Boling and a broken bike. The officers engaged the woman, who they knew by name, and asked her how she was doing. Boling, meanwhile, got up and walked away. One of the officers followed Boling, telling him to stop so they could talk. Boling then ran into traffic on Fell Street.
The two officers pedaled across Fell Street and approached Boling on the sidewalk, where he had stopped. Officer James Tacchini drew his baton and commanded Boling to get on the ground. Claiming Boling took a “fighting stance” and believing he drew a folded pocket knife from his pocket, Tacchini then hit Boling in the knee, causing Boling to stagger. Boling then ran back into traffic on Fell Street and cut through the Department of Motor Vehicle parking lot toward Oak Street. By this time, six to 10 officers were in pursuit.
Officers tackled Boling on Oak Street near Divisadero Street, where Sgt. Joan Cronin testified that she put Boling in a carotid chokehold when he tried to stand back up. Tacchini testified that he punched Boling six times in the face with a closed fist and kicked him in the shoulder.
Police found an unsheathed pocket knife and a black lighter in Boling’s possession. Boling, who suffered severe bruising and whose eye was swollen shut, was treated by paramedics. Cronin reported that Boling bit her hand, but photographs presented at trial showed no visible injury, Tong said. Officer Michael Diskin suffered scrapes to his hands and Officer Elizabeth Prillinger reported bruises to her knees.
Tacchini suffered a sprained wrist and bruised knuckles, and went on worker’s compensation for three weeks.
Four officers testified during the trial, offering varying and changing reasons for detaining Boling, ranging from wanting to help him to concern for his mental health to suspecting him of bike theft, Tong said.
None could offer a legal reason for stopping and pursuing Boling, who had committed no crime.
“Walking away while homeless is not a crime,” Tong said. “A hunch is not a good enough reason to chase someone through traffic and pummel them into submission.”
A use of force expert brought by the prosecution testified that in involuntary psychiatric hold would have been preferable to an arrest.
Jurors, who deliberated less than a day before reaching their not guilty verdict, said the case raised concerns about how officers interact with homeless people, Tong said.
Adachi noted that a citizen is not required to remain with a police officer unless they are being detained. To detain someone, police must have reasonable suspicion of a crime.
“Mr. Boling is not required to give up his constitutional rights because he is homeless,” Adachi said. “During the encounter, he was outnumbered and afraid. Fortunately, he had a public defender to stand up for him in court and a jury who was able to determine the truth.”
Boling was released from jail Monday. The bicycle was later determined by police not to have been stolen.