San Francisco, CA – On the morning of February 7, 2007, three plainclothes police officers approached 39-year-old John Gibson under the mistaken belief that he was a parolee on the run. Gibson, who was seated near Market and 7th Streets, saw three men advance assertively and believed that he was going to be attacked. The three officers – Officers Eric Perez, Oscar Barcena and Benjamin Pagtanac — grabbed Gibson by his arms, who resisted in an attempt to defend himself and his property. In response to Gibson’s defensive actions, one of the officers repeatedly kneed Gibson in the eye causing extensive bruising and swelling to his face.
After arresting Gibson, and realizing that they had arrested the wrong man, the officers charged him with battery on two police officers and resisting arrest. The battered Gibson spent two nights in jail and the District Attorney subsequently filed charges. A San Francisco jury heard the case in a four-day trial, which resulted in Gibson’s acquittal on nine counts of battery on July 6, 2007.
The District Attorney’s case relied on trial testimony by the officers who said that they approached Gibson because they believed he resembled a parolee at large. They further testified that, prior to the arrest, they identified themselves as police officers several times and displayed their badges to Gibson. On the stand, the officers admitted that Gibson was injured during the arrest, but were unable to give a consistent explanation as to how he received his injuries.
According to Gibson, he had no reason to believe that he was being approached by police officers. The plainclothes officers drove up Market Street in an unmarked vehicle and never identified themselves. In addition to Gibson’s testimony, his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Peter Santina, offered evidence that included enlarged photos of Gibson’s eye injuries, and photos of the crew cut parolee who police mistakenly believed that the longhaired Gibson resembled. Says Santina, “Mr. Gibson was not only the victim of mistaken identity by the police, but was also a victim of their brutality.”
No civilian witnesses were called.
The mission of the Public Defender’s office is to provide vigorous, effective, competent and ethical legal representation to persons who are accused of crime and cannot afford to hire an attorney. Established in 1921, the San Francisco Public Defender has a long, proud history of providing top-notch representation to its clients, and championing programs that help people turn their lives around.