San Francisco, CA — A homeless man who faced lifetime registration as a sex offender was acquitted Monday of masturbating in public after jurors determined he was simply trying to urinate.

Jurors deliberated for an hour before finding 46-year-old Anthony Richey not guilty of indecent exposure and lewd conduct, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Ariana Downing. An indecent exposure conviction would have required Richey to register for life as a sex offender. Richey faced up to six months in jail if convicted of both misdemeanors.

Richey was arrested July 25, 2010 after a passerby called 911 and reported a man masturbating while partially hidden in an alcove on the corner of Eddy and Franklin streets.

During the two-and-a-half-day trial, the medical director of Jail Health Services and an urologist both testified that Richey had a documented 10-year history of prostate and bladder problems that made urination difficult. In addition to his health conditions, which had caused him to be catheterized in the past, Richey was taking medication with a primary side effect of increasing difficulty in urinating.  The urologist testified that men suffering Richey’s condition often will push on their bladders or squeeze their genitals in an attempt to increase the flow of urine.

The 911-caller also took the stand, contradicting his earlier claim and conceding that Richey could have been trying to urinate. Police officers who arrested Richey testified that when they told him, “You can’t be doing that here” Richey responded, “I have no place else to go. I’m homeless.”  Police confirmed that Richey was huddled close to the wall of the alcove and was not readily visible to passersby.

“You can see how someone could observe Mr. Richey, homeless and huddled in an alcove, concentrating and unsuccessfully attempting to urinate, and jump to conclusions,” Downing said. “However, things aren’t always as they appear. In this case, police mistook his intentions.”

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the case illustrated how snap judgments can be wrong.

“This case shows that a person’s actions can be easily misinterpreted and that things aren’t always what they might seem.  Fortunately for Mr. Richey, the true facts came to light, thanks to his public defender’s thorough investigation,” Adachi said.