San Francisco, CA — A homeless man who was mistaken for a flasher as he attempted to urinate in a Mission District park has been acquitted of indecent exposure, San Francisco Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated one hour Wednesday before finding Miguel Hernandez, 38, not guilty. The misdemeanor charge carried six months in jail and a lifetime registration as a sex offender, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender JP Visaya.
Hernandez, who had never been arrested before the incident, had recently become homeless after losing his job as a wine buyer, Visaya said. On Aug. 11, he attended church on Mission Street, had lunch, and walked to Franklin Square Park on Bryant and 16th streets—something that had become his Sunday routine.
Hernandez stopped to urinate near a field where a soccer game was underway. As he took out his penis, there was a loud eruption from the soccer field and he turned his head to see who scored.
At the same time, a 29-year-old Daly City woman who was watching her husband play soccer noticed Hernandez’s exposed genitals. She quickly walked away so that her 4-year-old child did not witness the sight, told her husband what happened, and then called a nearby police station. She told police that she believed Hernandez had an erection and that he swung his hips in her direction.
Hernandez, who had not noticed the woman and her child, took his shoes off and sat down to watch the soccer game. Responding officers arrested him for indecent exposure. Despite the numerous people in the park at the time of the incident, police did not interview any potential witnesses, Visaya said.
Hernandez told police during an interview that he decided to relieve his bladder because he believed other park visitors were too immersed in the soccer game to notice. He expressed embarrassment upon learning he had been seen, Visaya said.
During the nearly two day trial, the prosecution called only one witness—the woman who made the complaint. Hernandez also took the stand, insisting he was not aroused and never meant to be seen.
An indecent exposure conviction requires the intention to draw attention to oneself for sexual gratification.
“Mr. Hernandez may have made an unwise decision about where to urinate, but that innocent mistake should not brand him for life as a sex offender who preys upon women and children when it simply isn’t true,” Visaya said.
The case is an example of how an innocent person can be arrested based on the misinterpretation of a single witness, Adachi said.
“Police and prosecutors did not talk to a single independent witness who could corroborate the woman’s version of events,” Adachi said. “Despite being a law-abiding citizen his entire life, Mr. Hernandez spent more than three months in jail. Fortunately, his public defender was able to set him free.”