San Francisco—A homeless man was acquitted of criminal threats after jurors saw footage of a police officer in the case appearing to intentionally turn off his body camera while talking to the man’s accuser, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors on Tuesday found Amie Mangisel, 53, not guilty of criminal threats and attempted criminal threats, both felonies. Jurors hung 10-2 for acquittal on one count of misdemeanor brandishing of a weapon and convicted Mangisel on a second misdemeanor brandishing charge.
Mangisel faced up to three years in prison if he had been convicted on the felony charges, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Abigail Rivamonte.
Mangisel, who lives in a tiny house on the sidewalk outside his mother’s home on Shafter Avenue in the Bayview, was arrested Oct. 18 following an escalating, weeks-long dispute with a neighbor. Mangisel, who is originally from the Philippines, is a legal resident who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years.
The neighbor, who considered Mangisel’s dwelling an eyesore, had repeatedly called city services to remove the homeless man’s encampment.
Two weeks before Mangisel’s arrest, the neighbor approached Mangisel as he repaired his dwelling and told him to get his belongings off the sidewalk. When the man kicked a plate of food Mangisel’s mother prepared for him, the 103-pound Mangisel allegedly chased the neighbor away with a hammer. Police declined to arrest either man.
On Oct. 18, Mangisel was frantically throwing all of his possessions off the sidewalk after having been falsely told by San Francisco Police Officer Nicholas Hooley that the Department of Public Works was coming to take his belongings.
The neighbor spotted the ensuing mess in the street and began filming the homeless man. Mangisel shouted, “Why are you taking my picture? You’re the one that kicked my food!” Mangisel briefly chased him away with a metal rod. The man never stopped recording and Mangisel stopped running after a few seconds and turned away.
The neighbor called police and Hooley, who was nearby, responded along with several other officers.
During the trial, however, jurors were disturbed by Hooley’s body camera video, which was missing two minutes and eight seconds of footage in the middle of his interview with the neighbor. When the video resumes, Hooley can be heard telling the neighbor, “we’re back on.” The officer then asks the neighbor to repeat a statement, and the man says Mangisel threatened to kill him. The neighbor’s cell phone video does not show Mangisel threatening his life and the neighbor did not appear frightened, as he could be heard humming a tune throughout the encounter.
The San Francisco Police Department’s general orders state that in order to promote public trust and accountability, body cams must be on during encounters with the public. If an officer fails to capture an encounter, he or she must provide an explanation in the police report. Officers who fail to comply with the general orders may be reprimanded, suspended, or terminated.
On the stand, Hooley claimed he did not know his camera was turned off, despite saying “now we’re back on.” He did not provide an explanation in the police report for the lapse.
Additional officers who knew Mangisel testified that he was normally a “friendly and calm” person.
The neighbor provided evasive and inconsistent testimony, refusing to answer some questions entirely, Rivamonte said.
“The jurors believed the complaining witness was lying and they were extremely troubled by the officer turning off his body camera. They wanted to trust the word of the police officer, and they would have done so if he left his camera running. Those two minutes were crucial in determining whether a threat had been made,” Rivamonte said.
The lack of explanation over the body camera suggested that the officer and the neighbor conspired to finally rid the neighborhood of Mangisel by having him charged with a felony, Rivamonte argued.
“The complaining witness and the police officer may have been desperate to get Mr. Mangisel off that street, but collusion is not a solution to homelessness. Mr. Mangisel is as much a part of that neighborhood as anyone else,” Rivamonte said.
Adachi praised the jurors for rejecting a case based on evidence that appeared to have been tampered with and exaggerated.
“Body worn cameras are there to protect both police and the public. If officers are hiding evidence by turning them off, that’s the same thing as concealing evidence,” Adachi said.