San Francisco, CA — A man whose fistfight with a gambling buddy was mistaken for a violent mugging has been acquitted of a slew of felonies, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated just over two hours Tuesday before acquitting San Francisco resident Dontae Taylor, 26, of robbery, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, battery causing great bodily injury, and receiving stolen property. If convicted, Taylor faced nine years in state prison, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Carmen Aguirre.
Taylor and the complaining witness, a 49-year-old South San Francisco man, were both regulars at an outer Mission establishment that allows patrons to play internet slot machines. On Aug. 18, after running into each other at the gaming hall, the pair left to shop for clothes together. When they returned to gamble, things took an ugly turn, Aguirre said.
The gaming establishment gives each gambler a pin code to access their funds. Taylor claimed he put down $100 to play the slot machines. But while he chatted with the clerk during the transaction, the complaining witness punched his own code, effectively stealing Taylor’s gambling money, Aguirre said.
While the older man played slots on Taylor’s dime, Taylor realized what had happened. He confronted the man and took him to the counter to right the wrong. An argument ensued, and both men were asked to leave.
Outside, Taylor demanded his money back. In response, his friend claimed to be penniless, offering his empty wallet as proof. Taylor then pocketed the wallet as collateral, telling his friend he would return it when he told the gambling hall staff what he did.
The older man, who feared being permanently banned from his favorite hangout, refused. He then sucker punched Taylor in the face. Both men removed their jackets and a fight ensued.
Taylor, despite suffering a split lip, emerged as the winner of the fistfight, which ended when he knocked his friend to the ground.
A passing Muni driver witnessed the altercation, and believed she saw Taylor rifling through the other man’s pockets as he lay on the ground. She called police and reported a mugging. The complaining witness was treated for facial contusions at the hospital and released. Taylor was arrested 12 blocks away with his friend’s wallet and identification in his pocket.
The complaining witness, meanwhile, told police he was hit from behind, had no idea who hit him, and had never seen Taylor before. He repeated his story during Taylor’s three-day trial.
His testimony was proven false after Aguirre produced surveillance video that not only established that the two men were together at the gaming house and the clothing store, but showed the complaining witness gaining access to Taylor’s gambling money by surreptitiously entering his own code.
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“The complaining witness didn’t want to get in trouble for stealing or picking a fight. He fabricated a story about being the victim of random violence in order to protect himself, his friend, and the gaming hall,” Aguirre said.
Adachi said the case illustrates how video evidence often makes the best witness.
“This case involved two different people who claimed to be telling the truth. Thankfully for Mr. Taylor, his public defender was able to produce concrete evidence that supported his version of events,” Adachi said.