Tuesday, January 30, 2018 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco— A man falsely accused of masturbating in public has been cleared of sex charges after a jury determined he was unloading stolen candy from his trousers, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated less than two hours Friday before finding Eugene Childs, 59, not guilty of indecent exposure and committing a lewd act in public. He was convicted solely of misdemeanor battery, for spitting during the Oct. 4 incident. Childs faced mandatory registration as a sex offender if convicted of indecent exposure. He would have had to register every 30 days instead of annually due to his homelessness, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Tenette Smith.
Childs, a disabled veteran who uses a wheelchair, had no history of sex offenses but has previous arrests for stealing candy. The day of his arrest, Childs shoplifted several bags of candy from Walgreens on Castro Street by dropping them down his shirt, which was tucked into his baggy pants. By the time he left the store and crossed the street, the bags had slipped into his trousers, Smith said. In the alcove of a gallery and clinic, he lay on the ground beside his wheelchair, unzipped his pants, and began fishing out the candy.
Meanwhile, two employees of the business confronted Childs, taping and photographing him while telling him to leave the premises. Childs argued with one of the women for a moment or two before complying. A 14-second cell phone video shot by one of the witnesses showed Childs struggling to pull up two pairs of baggy pants while clutching his candy and getting back into his wheelchair. During the process of gathering his candy and trying to return to his wheelchair, his pants slipped down briefly, exposing part of his buttocks. Childs spat as he left, with some of the spittle hitting the women. Childs testified he needed to spit and did not mean to spit on the witnesses.
One of the women flagged down a police officer, while another woman called 911. Neither woman stated Childs was masturbating—just that he was blocking the business entrance and spat.
During the trial, Smith argued that one of the women accused Childs of masturbating only after a police officer who viewed the video of him fumbling in his pants asked her leading questions. The woman who accused Childs of masturbating took the stand and told wildly inconsistent stories. She testified that she watched him masturbate with candy falling out of his pants for a full minute and that he appeared to masturbate in retaliation for her telling him to leave. After questioning, however, she admitted she only saw his penis for a second and could not tell if it was erect.
The other witness, who testified for the defense, stated she never saw Childs’ penis and his movements were consistent with someone fishing candy out of his pants.
Childs also took the stand.
“Mr. Childs was honest and genuine in his testimony,” Smith said. “He owned up to stealing candy and was adamant he didn’t have any lewd intentions.”
Childs turned down a plea deal that would have let him avoid sex registration because he was innocent and wanted to clear his name, Smith said.
“Mr. Childs risked being branded a sex offender because he refused to plead to a crime he didn’t commit,” Smith said. “There was so much evidence pointing to his innocence, yet the DA pressed on with this case that would have had devastating consequences.”
Adachi said the case illustrated how unreliable eyewitness accounts can result in injustice.
“Faulty eyewitness accounts are the leading cause of wrongful conviction,” Adachi said. “Luckily, Mr. Childs had the benefit of more than one witness, a video, and a public defender willing to fight for him.”
Childs was not charged with theft of the candy.