Monday, December 18, 2017 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco—A veteran accused of going overboard when fighting back against his attacker was acquitted of all charges—and jurors are choosing to speak out about the injustice of his case, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
A jury on Thursday acquitted Darryl J’Eronn, 52, of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury and battery with serious bodily injury. Both felony charges carried enhancements and were “strikes.” If convicted, J’Eronn faced up to seven years in state prison.
Jurors, who were outraged J’Eronn was charged, took less than 10 minutes to decide to acquit him. They hugged him following the verdict, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ilona Solomon.
J’Eronn was arrested March 21 after a confrontation with his next door neighbor at the Fairfax Hotel, a supportive housing complex for veterans where he had secured a room nearly a year earlier. The neighbor had bullied and harassed J’Eronn for the length of J’Eronn’s tenancy and J’Eronn took great pains to avoid him. He carefully documented the death threats he endured, including being assaulted with a knife. He filed grievances with hotel management in vain.
A week before their final confrontation, the harassment escalated. The neighbor again threatened J’Eronn with a knife. J’Eronn retrieved his pellet gun and pointed it at his attacker. When the neighbor realized it was not a real gun, he continued to try to stab J’Eronn before punching him. Both men were booked into jail for possession of a weapon, but prosecutors declined to file charges. Terrified of returning home, J’Eronn went to a police station, then filed an application for a restraining order against the neighbor stating “I am afraid he will attack and kill me.” Sheriff Deputies tried to serve the neighbor twice without success.
On March 21, J’Eronn was standing outside the hotel when the neighbor appeared, threatening his life before punching him twice in the face. J’Eronn, who is disabled due to major back surgery, punched the neighbor in self-defense, causing the neighbor to fall to the ground with his eyes open. Afraid his assailant would get up, J’Eronn body slammed him once before kicking him in the head. He then tried unsuccessfully to flag down a police car, before following the advice of the hotel manager and walking around the block to calm down.
When J’Eronn returned to the Fairfax Hotel about an hour later, the police arrested him. Officers found a screwdriver and a pair of scissors in the neighbor’s pocket, but did not seize the weapons as evidence. Blood testing later showed the neighbor was high on cocaine and amphetamines, and had a blood alcohol level of .11.
During the trial, five hotel employees and one resident took the stand. They described J’Eronn as a kind, reasonable, quiet man who avoided conflict at all cost. They testified that the neighbor regularly threatened the lives of other hotel tenants. An expert testified that J’Eronn’s response to his attacker was consistent with appropriate fight-or-flight response to a threat on his life.
J’Eronn also testified, crying as he described living in fear of his neighbor. J’Eronn was jailed for four months before being released on his recognizance after prosecutors asked to delay the trial. He lost his housing at the Fairfax Hotel. He had been on the waiting list for Section 8 rental assistance for 13 years, and became eligible during his incarceration. He was disqualified.
Dr. Anne Fabiny, a juror in the case, said members of the jury made the unusual request to speak out because they were appalled that a crime victim was treated like a criminal.
“I was angered the defendant had been arrested, jailed and charged with a crime and that the district attorney’s office had pursued the case,” Fabiny said. “The conduct of the San Francisco Police Department was lazy, sloppy, and I daresay racist. Taxpayer money was wasted, and so was the time of numerous people. Although the defendant was found not guilty on all counts, he did not receive justice.”
Juror Angela Wisco said it was overwhelmingly clear from the testimony and evidence J’Eronn acted in self-defense, and that jury members believed the wrong man had been prosecuted.
“I was shocked as to why we were even having this trial,” Wisco said. “Darryl had been doing everything he could to avoid this man for basically a year, even applying for a restraining order, and then he’s arrested when defending himself against an attack on his life. I thought, why is he the one being charged?”
A third juror, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed.
“There was a collective sense among the jury that the wrong man stood trial. Twelve objective strangers came to a unanimous decision of not guilty on all charges in a matter of minutes with the evidence provided. Had the same due diligence been exercised at the time of the arrest, we would have had a very different trial. Mr. J’Eronn’s confirmed innocence aside, our justice system failed in ultimately protecting him against an ongoing threat and left us all vulnerable to a dangerous and unpredictable individual,” the juror stated.
Adachi commended the jurors for correcting an injustice against a vulnerable San Franciscan.
“This wrongful arrest and prosecution upended Mr. J’Eronn’s life. After being victimized by his neighbor, he was victimized again by the criminal justice system. The jury collectively said, ‘No more,’” Adachi said.