San Francisco, CA — A man falsely accused of causing the death of an elderly newspaper vendor has been acquitted, while a fast food customer tackled by police after being mistaken for a drug dealer has also been cleared of charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Both verdicts were read within moments of each other late Monday in the unrelated cases.
Jurors deliberated 45 minutes before finding Mark Cassell, 39, not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, elder abuse and assault likely to cause great bodily injury. If convicted, he faced up to 11 years in state prison, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Azita Ghafourpour.
In an unprovoked attack on Jan. 28, 2013, a man picked up 77-year-old Dallas Ayers as he sold newspapers outside One Post Street, then either dropped him or fell to the ground with him. Ayers died a month later in the hospital from complications from a broken hip.
A witness snapped a blurry photo of the attacker, which police distributed in a crime bulletin. Cassell was arrested March 13, 2013 after an officer concluded he resembled the photo.
“Like the suspect, Mr. Cassell is a Caucasian man with a beard—but that is where the resemblance ends,” Ghafourpour said. “He was an easy target because he was homeless and had mental health issues. He was swept off the street and charged with a serious crime.”
Four witnesses saw the attack on Ayers. None picked Cassell out of a lineup as the attacker, though one identified him in court one year later.
Ayers’ attacker was described as 5 feet 8 inches tall. Cassell stands 6 feet 4 inches.
“It did not take the jury long to realize this was a case of mistaken identity,” Ghafourpour said.
“Mr. Ayer’s death was a tragedy, but his tragic death should not be compounded by the injustice of convicting an innocent man.”
Minutes apart in a different courtroom, jurors acquitted Jacobia Perkins, 28, of resisting arrest using force or violence and resisting arrest causing serious bodily injury, both felonies. Perkins was also acquitted of battery on a police officer, a misdemeanor. If convicted, Perkins faced up to five years behind bars, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Douglas Welch.
Perkins was arrested Nov. 26 in an incident that quickly escalated, Welch said.
Perkins was inside a Burger King at 16th and Mission streets when he was approached by San Francisco Police Sgt. Sean Perdomo, who was in plainclothes. Five minutes earlier, Perdomo claimed he had received a tip from a secret informant that someone was selling methamphetamine in the back of the restaurant. The informant provided no physical description, and was gone when Perdomo responded.
Perdomo immediately focused on the African American Perkins, who was sitting at a table looking at his phone. He strode toward Perkins, who quickly stood up. Perdomo slammed him to the table, then took him to the ground, Welch argued. Perdomo testified that Perkins grabbed his phone and made a motion toward his waistband, causing him to believe he had a weapon.
Perkins, who was unarmed and did not have any drugs, suffered facial injuries in the arrest. Officers claimed Perkins’ face was bloodied by slamming his own head against the police vehicle. One officer fractured his pinky finger as numerous officers forced Perkins into a police van, and another officer’s face was grazed by Perkins’ shoe.
At least 15 police officers were involved in Perkins’ arrest, but no video was preserved in the incident and no independent witness statements were taken.
During the trial, Perdomo acknowledged he was admonished after the Office of Citizen Complaints determined he used excessive force against a man in an unrelated 2013 incident.
After deliberating five hours, jurors acquitted Perkins based on the determination that Perdomo had not acted in lawful performance of his duties when he detained and arrested Perkins.
“Mr. Perkins was minding his own business and only wanted to be left alone,” Welch said. “The jury affirmed he had the right to walk away from an illegal arrest.”
Adachi said both cases illustrate the dangers of placing assumptions over evidence and relying solely on unreliable identification. Go to my blog for more details.
“Eyewitness misidentification accounts for the overwhelming majority of wrongful convictions. Both Mr. Cassell and Mr. Perkins have been behind bars since their arrests, which were based not on evidence but on bias and a rush to judgment. Thanks to the help of skilled public defenders and thoughtful juries, they are finally free,” Adachi said.