Innocent Man, Strip-Searched and Misidentified by Police, Acquitted of Drug Sales

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San Francisco, CA – A San Francisco man, who was strip-searched and misidentified by police, was acquitted of drug sales in 70 minutes after his deputy public defender exposed the prosecution’s case as devoid of evidence of illegal activity.

“The scary thing about this case is that what happened to my client could have happened to anyone,” Deputy Public Defender Corey Allen said. “I would say that my client was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he wasn’t. He lives and works in this neighborhood. He has every right to walk down the street and be free from police harassment,” Allen added.

On June 26, 2008, William Butler was on his way to the Alemany Housing Projects to provide physical care to his elderly mother. Butler was about 100 feet from his mother’s doorstep when two police officers ordered him to stop and put his hands on his head. Butler cooperated and was searched twice.

Although officers found no drugs or weapons on Butler, he was handcuffed and told he was being arrested for drug sales. Butler was driven to the police station where he immediately consented to a strip search, which revealed no evidence of illegal activity.

At trial, one police officer claimed that while sitting in a marked squad car on Alemany Boulevard ten minutes before Butler’s arrest, he saw a person who resembled Butler lean into a green Honda about 50 yards away. The officer and his partner followed the green Honda and radioed to another squad car to find and arrest Butler for drug sales.

On cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Allen revealed that neither officer actually saw any drugs exchanged and only saw the person’s profile for less than two seconds.

“Officers, who were not even sure if they witnessed a drug transaction, claimed to positively identify my client as a drug seller based on a one second observation of someone’s profile from 150 feet away. It’s absurd to think that this is the evidence on which the prosecution based its entire case against Mr. Butler,” Allen said.

Police said that they recognized Butler because he lives and works as a home attendant in the neighborhood.

Butler, who is African American, was acquitted on Thursday, March 5, 2009, after a three day trial. His acquittal preceded a report issued by the National Center on Crime and Delinquency that found that African Americans are arrested at 2.5 times the rate for Caucasians overall and are 4.7 times more likely to require a public defender.

A copy of the study can be found at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency website: http://www.nccd-crc.org/

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.

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