San Francisco, CA — A homeless man who threw his skateboard into the windshield of an Uber driver who sped toward him in a darkened alley has been acquitted of all charges, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Friday found Martin Knaak, 49, not guilty of vandalism and resisting arrest. Knaak faced up to a year in jail if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Eric Guttschuss.
Knaak’s trouble began shortly after 1 a.m. on Dec. 6, while walking along Moulton Street in the Marina District. A passing Uber driver in a Prius, apparently angry that Knaak had been jaywalking on a nearby street, motioned for him to walk in the crosswalk , then extended his middle finger.
Moments later, when Knaak crossed in front of the Prius at an intersection, the driver smiled and revved his motor, apparently threatening the homeless man. In response, Knaak splashed his soda onto the car. The angry driver then pursued Knaak, at times traveling down the wrong side of a street and forcing him between two parked cars before following him on foot while videotaping him.
Knaak retreated down a narrow alley. Postal trucks were parked on both sidewalks, making it necessary for him to walk in the street. Soon, headlights appeared and the Uber driver began accelerating toward Knaak. Fearing for his life, and with the speeding car a mere 30 feet away, Knaak threw his skateboard at the oncoming car and smashed its front windshield, forcing the driver to pay for a Windshield Replacement, Guttschuss said.
Knaak, shaken, called 911 and reported that a man was trying to run him over. Police arrived to find the homeless man emotional and distraught and placed him in handcuffs. Meanwhile, the Uber driver described an unprovoked attack on his vehicle. Handcuffed and on his knees, Knaak began tapping his head in frustration on a building wall. Police then pulled him to the ground by his hair, one of the officers driving her knee into Knaak’s shoulder, another injuring his thumb.
“Police made assumptions without ever hearing Mr. Knaak’s side of the story. He was the victim of a crime. He needed help,” Guttschuss said.
Knaak’s emotional testimony resonated with jurors during the three-day trial. Jurors later stated they believed the homeless man acted in self-defense.
“This was a very difficult experience for him. He called 911, hoping officers would protect him. Instead, he was arrested,” Guttschuss said.
The Uber driver also testified, claiming he did not pursue Knaak. However, the driver’s cell phone video contradicted his claims.
When the jury returned its verdict, Knaak teared up and said, “They still lied.”
Adachi said the case highlights the need to be unbiased when investigating crimes.
“As a crime victim, Mr. Knaak deserved every bit of the police response and protection that would have been afforded to a wealthy San Franciscan,” Adachi said. “What happened to him is a betrayal of justice. Fortunately, his public defender was able to end his nightmare.”