Wednesday, October 21, 2015 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A 61-year-old crooner who serenades Union Square shoppers was acquitted Tuesday of hitting a stranger with a bicycle lock, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated approximately 15 minutes before acquitting Tyrone Ambus of San Francisco of assault with a deadly weapon. Jurors also found Ambus not guilty of the lesser, included charge of assault. If convicted, Ambus faced up to four years in state prison, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Doug Welch.
Ambus, who suffers from arthritis and lives in supportive housing, supplements his disability income by selling Street Sheets and entertaining tourists with an oeuvre ranging from Marvin Gaye to Cyndi Lauper. He was arrested in the Union Square area July 21 after he and two other men approached a police officer with conflicting stories about a confrontation.
One of the men told police that he was walking with his friend on Mason Street while talking on his cell phone when Ambus rode up to him on his bike and hit him with his lock, causing a cut to his left ear.
Ambus begged police to get surveillance video from a nearby pub, insisting it would exonerate him. Police arrested Ambus without interviewing him and wrote in the police report “we searched the area for video footage to no avail.”
During the trial, the pub owner testified that his security system records the street where the confrontation occurred. The proprietor was never contacted by police, and the footage was purged one day before a public defender investigator contacted him.
Ambus also took the stand, testifying that the two men had earlier assaulted him. Later, as he was walking his bicycle behind them, they suddenly turned to confront him. Ambus said he struck out with his hand at one of the men in self-defense and denied using his bike lock as a weapon. Ambus testified he rode straight to the nearest police officer following the confrontation, but the two men followed him and were able to yell out their accusations seconds earlier. He was in handcuffs before he could tell his side of the story.
“I was devastated,” he testified. “I went to police for help and they turned on me.”
Not only was Ambus unable to explain himself to responding officers, but the police investigator who picked up the case the next day also failed to talk to him.
“The police saw Mr. Ambus coming to them first and in a matter of moments, he was detained for a crime. Nobody followed up on his side of the story and police falsely stated they looked for video,” Welch said. “The jury understood that you cannot prosecute a case with such little concern for evidence and investigation. That is how innocent people get convicted.”
Mr. Ambus, who was jailed for 90 days, nearly lost his housing. Despite his ordeal, he has continued to sing, at one point serenading the court with a rendition of The Captain and Tenille’s Love Will Keep Us Together.
Adachi said the case shows how people accused of crimes need advocates to ensure their voices are heard.
“Mr. Ambus maintained his innocence from the beginning. He tried to tell his story, but he couldn’t find anyone who would listen until he had a public defender on his side,” Adachi said.