San Francisco, CA — A man mistaken for a car burglar, a woman wrongly charged after a police officer manipulated a computer log and a homeowner defending his property were acquitted by juries in three separate trials this week.
The not guilty verdicts came within 24 hours Monday and today. Each client was represented by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. All faced a year in jail if convicted.
On Monday, Laporsha Greene, 22, of San Francisco was found not guilty of evading a police officer. The jury came to its decision in minutes following a three-day trial in which the arresting officer impeached himself several times on the stand, said Greene’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Damien Jovel.
Greene, a caregiver to the elderly, was driving her grandmother’s minivan Aug. 31 when a police officer attempted to pull her over at Crescent Avenue and Andover Street for a broken tail light. The officer wrote in his report that Greene ignored his light and siren, speeding and driving recklessly. The officer ran her license plate and pursued her for two blocks before giving up, he said. An hour later, he tracked the vehicle to Greene’s Visitacion Valley residence. The officer cited Greene after she approached him on the sidewalk and asked him what was wrong with the van.
“That was the first thing that struck the jury—it made no sense that a woman who had just evaded police would approach an officer who is inspecting her getaway car,” Jovel said.
The jury was also swayed by inconsistencies between the officer’s version of events and the police department’s computer log, called a CAD.
“The officer testified he first saw the van at 6:50 p.m., but the CAD noted he ran the license plate nine minutes earlier at 6:41 p.m.,” Jovel said. “The CAD doesn’t lie.”
The officer’s credibility was further damaged, Jovel said, when he denied under oath that he manipulated the CAD record to add Greene’s license information at 6:56 p.m., possibly to fit his version of events. He was later impeached when the police department’s custodian of record confirmed the officer had pasted in the information later.
Greene testified she never saw the light nor heard the siren and denied driving recklessly.
In a second acquittal Monday, a jury deliberated less than three hours before finding San Francisco resident Jon Whiteman, 58, not guilty of auto burglary and receiving stolen property.
Whiteman’s ordeal began April 14, when the sound of shattering glass startled a 28-year-old woman and her 55-year-old mother inside their O’Farrell Street apartment, said Whiteman’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Prithika Balakrishnan.
From the window, the daughter spotted a man running away with her purse. Her car window had been smashed. She chased the thief, with her mother not far behind. The daughter followed the man onto the 38 Geary bus, but he had already fled, leaving her property on the bus floor.
A short time later, the women spotted Whiteman waiting to cross the street at O’Farrell Street and Van Ness Avenue and flagged him down. Believing they needed assistance, Whiteman approached, Balakrishnan said. Instead, the mother physically accosted him while the daughter called 911. Responding officers arrested Whiteman.
“Mr. Whiteman had no idea what was going on,” Balakrishnan said. “He asked police to get video from the area to clear his name. Police never bothered to get surveillance footage from Muni or interview any of the witnesses on the bus or on the street.”
During the six-day trial, several character witnesses—including a nun—testified to Whiteman’s honest nature. His physician testified that chronic hip and knee problems left Whiteman unable to run. An expert witness also took the stand, testifying to the unreliability of eyewitness identification.
“The only thing holding the case together was the shaky identification by the complaining witnesses,” Balakrishnan said. “In the end, the jury was not convinced.”
In a final victory, jurors this morning found a homeowner not guilty of domestic violence after he used force to stop his former partner from tearing down a wall following repeated verbal warnings.
Jurors deliberated for one hour before determining Joseph Bandiera, 44, acted in defense of his property when he struck his 45-year-old former partner with a portable fire extinguisher Oct. 7. He was acquitted of all charges, which included domestic violence and assault with a deadly weapon.
Bandiera’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Emily Dahm, said the two men bought a three-unit apartment building in Noe Valley together in 2005, shortly before their relationship ended. Bandiera lives in the building while his former partner rents one of the units to a tenant. The building has been the subject of a protracted legal battle between the two owners.
On Oct. 7, after a disagreement over a leak in a tenant’s apartment, Bandiera and his husband discovered the co-owner tearing down a wall while another man videotaped it. The men ignored multiple pleas by Bandiera and his husband to stop ripping through drywall and to leave the premises. In an unsuccessful effort to stop the vandalism, Bandiera’s husband sprayed the man with a fire extinguisher before calling the police.
Before police could arrive, Bandiera tried to stop his former partner by hitting him several times with the extinguisher. The complaining witness suffered a minor cut to the arm that did not require stitches.
“The minute Mr. Bandiera’s former partner forcibly entered the area and began tearing down the wall he became a trespasser on his own property,” Dahm said. “Mr. Bandiera had the right to use reasonable force.”
Dahm said the jury also questioned the complaining witness’ truthfulness after learning he edited his friend’s videotape of the incident before giving it to police, ensuring it only showed the physical confrontation.