San Francisco, CA — A Muni passenger accused of pinching and shoving an 11-year-old girl was acquitted of all charges today after surveillance footage proved his innocence, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Jury members spent nearly three hours watching and re-watching video of the alleged incident frame by frame before finding Billy O’Neal, 58, not guilty of battery and child abuse, both misdemeanors. O’Neal faced six months in jail if convicted.
“The footage is clear. Mr. O’Neal never touched anyone,” said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender J.P. Visaya. “Jury members didn’t understand how this got to trial when the district attorney had also seen the footage. One juror said it felt like they were on the show Punk’d.”
O’Neal was arrested July 6 in the Western Addition after an 11-year-old passenger on the inbound 5-Fulton told the bus driver that O’Neal had walked to the back, pinched her shoulder, shoved her out of her seat, and called her a “stupid ass kid.”
O’Neil, indignant at the accusation, vacated the bus after loudly declaring that he had never touched a child. He was arrested while waiting at the next bus stop at McAllister and Laguna streets.
The girl repeated her accusation during the trial. Surveillance video told a different story.
The footage showed O’Neal, who was on the way to a homeless shelter with a large backpack, walking to the back of the bus and taking an empty seat between the girl and an unidentified man. The girl looked at O’Neal and immediately exited her seat, choosing to stand rather than sit near him.
O’Neal, who thought the girl’s actions were rude, responded by asking an unrelated female passenger if she was the child’s mother. The girl can then be seen walking up to the bus driver and reporting that O’Neal assaulted her.
O’Neal’s partner of 32 years also took the stand as a character witness, testifying that O’Neal had always been kind to her children and grandchildren.
Adachi said O’Neal was exonerated due to diligent investigative work by the public defender’s office.
“Mr. O’Neal was adamant that he never touched this young passenger. After we subpoenaed the surveillance footage, we were able to prove it. Unfortunately, Mr. O’Neal spent more than a month in jail before we could clear his name,” Adachi said.