SAN FRANCISCO – On Tuesday, November 12, 2019, a jury acquitted a homeless man of two felony charges after police pulled him over at gunpoint for riding a stolen motorcycle on Division Street and San Bruno Avenue at 6pm on June 26, 2019. However, he may still serve four years in prison for driving without a license.
Charles Mabrey, 50, a native of Oakland, was homeless living in his car in San Francisco, but having a car was becoming a nuisance. He asked some people about where he could get an e-bike or a motorcycle. He said that a friend told him of a motorcycle that his cousin was selling. When the cousin showed up, Mabrey mounted the motorcycle, which was already turned on, and took it for a test ride.
The prosecution argued that he should have seen the punched in ignition and assume it was stolen. However, he never saw or touched the ignition, which is in an unusual place on the Triumph Scrambler.
Mabrey stalled in an intersection where an observer noticed him not wearing a helmet. The observer called 911 to report an African American man struggling to operate the motorcycle and suggested that it might be stolen. Police responded promptly and found the man and the motorcycle described on the 911 call nearby.
When the first police car arrived, both officers exited the vehicle, drew their guns and proceeded to yell commands at Mabrey. More police arrived, and the reporting officer, Trevor Magallanes, himself a long-time motorcyclist, was not able to immediately locate the oddly-placed ignition. Mabrey said that he saw other officers reach under the handlebars and pull down some loose wires, indicating that the bike had been hotwired.
Mabrey was charged with two felony counts for possession of stolen property and joyriding without consent of the owner. The prosecutor, Brittney Delgado, failed to prove that he had actual knowledge that the bike was stolen, and even suggested that the person who had tried to sell it to him was not real. Rather, deputy public defender Crystal Carpino argued that Mabrey was reasonably mistaken that he had permission from the person he thought was the owner.
It turned out that the bike had been stolen, but not by Mabrey. The real owner’s home surveillance camera showed two helmeted men – which it was agreed was not Mabrey – arrive on one motorcycle and ride away on two around 1am that same day.
The jury found Mabrey not guilty on both felony counts. However, he did admit to driving those few blocks without a license, which is a misdemeanor.
Mabrey remains in custody because he is currently on probation for drug charges. One probation carries an ESS (execution of sentence suspended) which is an agreement that any violation of his probation would cause him to serve four years in prison. Judge Ross Moody has the discretion whether or not to detain him on the ESS, or whether to release him for time served for the misdemeanor.
“Trying to put someone in prison for four years on such a minor probation violation is inhumane and unnecessary,” said Carpino.
Mabrey has a history of convictions, but also of family tragedy. When he was a teenager, his whole family was murdered by his sister’s violent on-and-off boyfriend.
“It was a long time ago, but it will affect his life forever. Some people can’t understand what life is like on the streets,” said Carpino. “Prosecutors just want to put somebody in prison for a while and forget about them. It doesn’t solve anything.”
Public Defender, Mano Raju, said, “We are pleased that the jury understood that Mr. Mabrey didn’t know the bike was stolen, and proud that he had a public defender who was able to illustrate the reality of the situation.”
Mr. Mabrey is scheduled to appear for a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, November 20, at 1:30pm.