San Francisco, CA — A man accused of hurling two 40 ounce bottles of Miller High Life at a convenience store clerk was acquitted after video evidence showed he acted in self-defense, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated approximately one hour Monday before acquitting San Francisco resident Pablo Rodriguez, 54, of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon and one count of resisting arrest. The misdemeanor charges carried up to a year and a half in jail, said Rodriguez’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Carmen Aguirre.
Rodriguez, a neighborhood activist who has worked to increase job opportunities in the Mission District, was arrested Nov. 19 after spending his evening socializing with friends at a Valencia Street bus stop, drinking beer and watching Monday night football through the window of a nearby restaurant.
Rodriguez and his friend purchased more beer at a convenience store on 24th and Valencia streets. On the way out, a friend of the clerk blocked their path and a brief argument ensued in Spanish. As Rodriguez exited, the clerk called him a troublemaker. Rodriguez, who disagreed with the characterization, returned briefly to explain himself. The clerk, clearly uninterested in Rodriguez’s side of the story, grabbed a bat from behind the counter and followed Rodriguez outside, brandishing the weapon.
The clerk returned to his store and Rodriguez’s friend attempted to follow him inside. Rodriguez physically restrained his friend from entering. It was then that the clerk approached and threw a cup of water in Rodriguez’s eyes. Rodriguez responded by throwing one of his 40 ounce bottles of Miller High Life toward the clerk, who dodged the bottle and pursued Rodriguez with the bat. Rodriguez threw his second bottle at the clerk, who blocked it with his hand and suffered a small scrape.
The clerk then began swinging the bat at Rodriguez, who held his backpack as a shield to protect his head. Rodriguez suffered an injured finger after being hit on the hand.
Rodriguez left, but returned to the area nearly two hours later to look for his friend. Instead, he found the clerk, the clerk’s friend and the store owner standing outside the store. They spotted Rodriguez and a loud argument ensued on the sidewalk.
A nearby police officer pulled up and ordered Rodriguez to put his hands behind his head for a search. When the officer grabbed Rodriguez’s injured finger, Rodriguez recoiled and fell onto his side, causing the officer to fall on top of him, Aguirre said.
The store employee told police that Rodriguez refused to leave and then threw beers at him in an unprovoked attack. He did not mention assaulting Rodriguez with water and a bat. During the one day trial, jurors watched surveillance video evidence that contradicted the clerk’s story. The clerk then changed his story on the stand, Aguirre said, telling jurors that Rodriguez came in hurling racial slurs. The clerk testified that he called Rodriguez back into the store to discuss his hurt feelings.
“The clerk’s story that Mr. Rodriguez was a menace who wouldn’t leave the store crumbled on the stand. He now had to account for the video evidence, so he invented a new story,” Aguirre said. “Mr. Rodriguez tried to explain himself to the clerk and the police, but nobody would listen. It is frightening to think of what would have happened to Mr. Rodriguez without video evidence and jurors who were willing to hear him.”
The case shows how easily a misunderstanding can result in a criminal charge, Adachi said.
“From the convenience store to the courtroom, Mr. Rodriguez’s only goal was to explain his intentions. He was not trying to cause trouble. Fortunately, the jurors returned the right verdict,” Adachi said.