October 28, 2020
PRESS CONTACT: San Francisco Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org
SF Public Defender’s Office Wins Acquittal for Client Accused of Carjacking and Robbery
SAN FRANCISCO – Yesterday, a jury acquitted a client of the Public Defender of all carjacking and robbery charges stemming from an incident in May. The jury found that Valentine Sua, 28, did not “use force or fear” with the intent to steal the car of a man who had stopped to help him jump-start his own vehicle, but rather had fled from an unfortunate miscommunication to avoid interacting with police.
On May 2, 2020, Sua was visiting family and friends in San Francisco’s Sunnydale neighborhood, and video surveillance showed that Sua had asked several people to help him jump-start his car. When a man in a Prius offered to help, Sua was confused by its quiet start and assumed that the man hadn’t turned on the car. Sua reached into the Prius and asked for the key. The man, who had immigrated from China just a year prior and did not fully understand what Sua was saying, got out of the car. By the time Sua had gotten into the driver seat of the Prius to jump-start his car, he saw that the man was running away. Sua panicked and fled, and was arrested shortly thereafter. He was charged with carjacking and robbery, but the jury found him not guilty on both counts.
The key evidence was established when the defense was able to show surveillance footage showing that Sua had been trying to jump-start his car all day. The original camera footage that SFPD investigators provided to the prosecution was a compilation produced by Watchtower Security, the company contracted to operate the cameras. “The compilation showed many of Mr. Sua’s activities that day, but I had to request the raw footage to discover that he had been flagging down cars all day asking people to help start his car,” said Deputy Public Defender Eric Fleischaker. “This helped prove to the jury that Mr. Sua was intending to start his own car, not to steal someone else’s.”
“Mr. Sua’s panicked flight response was based on his previous interactions with police while growing up in Sunnydale where he has always felt like the police assume he’s guilty,” said Fleischaker. “After system involvement in his younger years, he had gotten his life back on track with a job promotion, a wife, and a child. With so much to lose, his reaction was to flee.”
The defense team called upon a social worker, Larry Jones Jr. – who also grew up in Sunnydale public housing – to provide cultural insight to Sua’s response. Jones spoke about the nearly constant and often negative police presence in the few square blocks of Sunnydale, which is monitored at all times by fifty-nine surveillance cameras.