Friday, February 10, 2017 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco— A jury acquitted a man of possessing brass knuckles after his public defender argued he was unfairly targeted for arrest because he was poor, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Thursday found Gary Makin, 51, not guilty of one count of possession of a deadly weapon. If convicted, he faced up to a year in jail, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender JP Passaglia.
Makin, a San Francisco native, fell on hard times several years earlier and in 2016 was living in a tent city near 13th and Harrison streets. On Dec. 19, he was approached by police while sitting in a car he had bought at auction two days earlier. Although Makin had his DMV forms and was planning to submit the paperwork, officers decided to tow the car due to its expired registration and lack of license plates.
Makin cooperated with police and began removing his belongings from the vehicle. A pair of brass knuckles, which he received as a gift, were visible in one of the bags. He was arrested.
During the trial, Passaglia argued that extreme poverty is incredibly expensive. Makin had become unable to afford his hometown due to the influx of moneyed newcomers and criminalizing him for it would not solve the problem, he told jurors.
“Although it was a misdemeanor, this case was extremely important because it dealt with the way we treat homelessness and overcrowding in San Francisco,” Passaglia said. “Police were not responding to a threat or a report about a weapon. They were there to roust a poor person from the area. It’s a difficult issue but the solution isn’t to throw people in jail.”
Jurors took less than two hours to acquit Makin.
Adachi commended the jury for judging the case with empathy as well as reason.
“Only two of the 12 jurors had lived in San Francisco for more than five years, but they all sympathized with Mr. Makin’s situation. In the end, they concluded that Mr. Makin didn’t possess the brass knuckles with the intent of using them as a weapon,” Adachi said.