Thursday, December 15, 2016 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco—A young man shown on video in a physical confrontation with BART police has been acquitted of four counts of battery on a police officer, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated two days before finding Michael Smith, 22, not guilty Wednesday afternoon of the four counts. Jurors deadlocked on two additional counts of battery on a police officer and one count of resisting arrest. Prosecutors on Friday are expected to announce whether they will dismiss the remaining charges or retry Smith.
All counts are misdemeanors and Smith faced a year in jail if convicted, said Adachi, who defended Smith at trial.
Cell phone video of Smith’s July 29 arrest at San Francisco’s Embarcadero Station showed BART police officers struggling with Smith on the platform, at one point punching him in the head while he is pinned on his stomach.
Smith and his pregnant girlfriend, who are African American, had been traveling to a doctor’s appointment when a white man on the train reportedly told them they smelled bad and to move away, sparking an argument. The white man then called police and falsely reported that Smith had threatened to rob him, Adachi said, telling dispatch that Smith may have had a gun.
When the unarmed couple stepped off the train, they were immediately confronted by officers, who tackled Smith and ordered his girlfriend to the ground.
Jurors watched several videos in which Smith begins to struggle when he sees an officer press a knee into his girlfriend’s back as she lies on her stomach on the platform. Smith can be heard calling out to the officer that his girlfriend is pregnant.
Placing a pregnant woman on her stomach and handcuffing her hands behind her body are violations of BART police protocol, Adachi argued at trial.
Following the verdict, jurors explained that they were troubled that officers never attempted to explain to the couple why they were violently detained.
“Jurors agreed that BART police officers used too much force and jumped to conclusions about Michael. They felt the situation could have been resolved without that level of violence. Michael had no idea why he was being stopped, or why officers had swept his legs out from under him and pinned him to the platform,” Adachi said.
The trial process had been fraught with controversy, with Adachi attempting to have Judge Anne-Christine Massullo removed for bias after she ruled that the defense could not mention Oscar Grant or Black Lives Matter to prospective jurors in the racially-charged case, nor provide evidence of the confrontation on the train. After Adachi’s request was denied, Massullo remained on the case but appeared visibly angry, at one point telling Adachi on the record that “you filed a meritless challenge against me and it was a big waste of time.”
Adachi said he was relieved Smith was acquitted despite tension on the bench and the absence of a single black juror.
“The jury was very intelligent and sensitive to issues of racial profiling and police brutality,” Adachi said. “My hope is that this case will make us take a closer look at excessive force among BART police officers. We owe it to the next Michael Smith that steps off the train.”