San Francisco, CA — With the help of the San Francisco Public Defender, a man falsely accused of sexual battery asked a judge today to destroy any record of the criminal charges.
Isuiza Tovar, 42, was acquitted May 27 of sexual battery, following a weeklong trial. The jury deliberated less than an hour before reaching its verdict, said Tovar’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Ruggiero. Today, Ruggiero petitioned San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer for a finding of factual innocence in the case. The finding will erase any mention of the arrest from Tovar’s record, ensuring he will not suffer negative consequences in future job searches or educational opportunities. The judge has taken the motion under advisement.
“It is somewhat unusual for a judge to issue a finding of factual innocence in a case that went all the way to trial, but if anyone deserves to be completely exonerated it is Mr. Tovar,” Ruggiero said. “This was an innocent and hardworking husband and father with no criminal record. What he was put through was unconscionable.”
Tovar’s legal trouble began on Dec. 27, 2010. A 19-year-old woman, after a drunken fight with her boyfriend, fled to Precita Park at 3 a.m. A short time later, after her boyfriend and brother found her walking on a nearby street, she told them that a stranger approached her from behind and fondled her as she swung on a swing-set.
Instead of calling the police, the intoxicated trio—one of them armed with a bottle – decided to search for the woman’s attacker in the neighborhood. They interrogated and released one man before approaching Tovar, who was walking his daily route through the Mission District on his way to his longtime warehouse job.
After the woman, whose criminal past was discussed in court, identified Tovar as her assailant, the two men began yelling accusations at a confused Tovar, who had fallen backward while protesting that he was innocent. As one of the men stood over Tovar, aiming the bottle at his head, police pulled up and cited Tovar for sexual battery. Officers had been summoned by a neighbor, who reported a couple having a loud domestic disturbance on the street.
“Because there was no Spanish speaking officer there, police never questioned Mr. Tovar, they simply arrested him. No investigator bothered to interview him since that day. Until he came to court, he had no idea what crime he was being charged with committing,” Ruggiero said.
During Tovar’s trial, his family, friends, boss and coworkers rallied to support the former banker, a legal resident who came to the U.S. a decade ago due to unrest in his home country of Peru.
His visiting nephew, who was awake and playing video games when Tovar headed to work, testified to when his uncle left the house—testimony that ruled out Tovar being near Precita Park at the time the crime was committed. The 911 caller also took the stand, as well as numerous character witnesses who testified in Tovar’s defense. Tovar also took the stand and relayed his account of the morning in question.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi expressed dismay that Tovar’s case went to trial, but said he was hopeful a finding of factual innocence would be granted.
“After a lifetime of being a law abiding person, a random and momentary encounter plunged Mr. Tovar into a legal nightmare,” Adachi said. “It is shocking that authorities never once explored Mr. Tovar’s side of the story, instead opting for a costly, needless trial.”
If he had been convicted of the four counts of sexual battery, Tovar faced a year in jail and lifetime registration as a sex offender.