San Francisco, CA — A man accused of choking and threatening a friend he suspected of stealing his change from a beer purchase has been acquitted of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated only 45 minutes Tuesday before finding 52-year-old Michael Rios not guilty of assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury, battery resulting in serious bodily injury, and criminal threats. If convicted, Rios faced up to two years in county jail, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Hien Nguyen.
Rios and the complaining witness, a 27-year-old man, were friendly neighbors in a Tenderloin hotel. On Feb. 2, they were socializing and drinking beer with a third man in Rios’ room. Around 5 p.m., Rios gave the younger man his ATM card and pin, instructing him to withdraw cash and buy the trio more beer.
When he returned with less change than anticipated, Rios accused his neighbor of violating the “I’ll buy if you fly” code of beer runs by stealing his cash, Nguyen said. An argument ensued and the man left.
Later, the complaining witness reported to police that Rios choked him and threatened him with a knife. He was taken to the hospital and given pain medication. Officers arrested Rios a short time later as he walked his dog.
During the three day trial, Nguyen exposed wild inconsistencies in the complaining witness’ story.
The man told responding officers that Mr. Rios choked him twice and pointed a knife at him. The next day, he told a sergeant by phone that he never saw a knife, but that Mr. Rios choked him a dozen times while threatening to stab him, Nguyen said. The man also waffled on whether the attack occurred inside Rios’ room or in the hall, and he appeared unclear on whether the third man was present.
Surveillance cameras in the hotel hallway did not show an attack, and the third man present in the room told officers he did not witness any violence, Nguyen said.
The complaining witness testified that he had redness and bruising on his neck and suffered from hoarseness after the attack, however the injuries were not apparent in photos viewed by jurors, Nguyen said.
The officer who arrested Rios testified that Rios seemed confused that he was being handcuffed rather than the man who allegedly stole his money.
“The complaining witness simply was not credible,” Nguyen said. “Mr. Rios may have trusted him with his ATM card, but the jury could not trust his testimony.”
Adachi said the case illustrated the importance of the presumption of innocence.
“Mr. Rios was arrested on a mere accusation that wasn’t backed up by evidence,” Adachi said. “Fortunately, his public defender was able to prove his innocence and Mr. Rios can now get on with his life.”