San Francisco, CA — A San Francisco father was cleared of vandalism and child endangerment charges after jury members determined he was acting to protect his son when he kicked the doors of a fleeing car with the toddler inside, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated approximately one hour Friday afternoon before acquitting Mario Vega, 26, of both misdemeanor charges, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha.
Vega was arrested New Year’s Day after an argument with his then-girlfriend while parked at Big Lots on Mission Street with their 2-year-old son. As the couple’s argument became heated, Vega told his girlfriend was going to take their toddler to a nearby park while she cooled off, Nabha said.
Vega walked with his son to the park, located a block away. His girlfriend quickly drove to them, double parking and getting out of the car. As she exited the car shouting, Vega began videotaping her actions. His girlfriend grabbed the phone out of his hands and then walked back to her car. A short time later, she returned to the park and grabbed their son off a slide, Nabha said. Vega, who did not want his son to travel with an angry driver, followed his girlfriend back to her car, pleading for her to stop. He then witnessed her place their child in the car seat, but fail to latch him into the safety harness before attempting to drive away.
“When he saw his son was unsecured in the car, he completely panicked. He would have lay down in the street and died for his son,” Nabha said.
Vega kicked the passenger door, begging for his girlfriend to stop driving. When she continued to pull away, he ran to the driver’s side and kicked the door twice, causing the driver’s side window to shatter. His girlfriend drove away, dropping Vega’s phone out of the window. She stopped after traveling 50 feet and called 911. Vega, who had no previous criminal history, was arrested 20 minutes later.
Vega testified during the two day trial that the most important thing in his life was to be a father to his son the way his father had been to him. Vega said he was simply trying to make sure his son was safe in a volatile situation.
Vega’s friend also took the stand as a character witness, describing the apprentice carpenter and San Francisco native as a loving, reliable, compassionate person.
Adachi said jurors reached a just verdict.
“Mr. Vega didn’t have the intent to vandalize the car and would never want his son to be in any danger,” Adachi said. “Mr. Vega was acting as a caring, protective father and the jury quickly determined he did not commit a crime.”