FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 13, 2021
MEDIA CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org – (628)249-7946
** PRESS RELEASE**
SF Jury Acquits U.S. Military Veteran on Assault Charges
San Francisco Public Defender Showed that their Client was Suffering a Mental Health Crisis and was Unconscious
SAN FRANCISCO – On Monday, April 12, 2021, a San Francisco jury determined that U.S. military veteran George Kennedy, 49, was not guilty of two felony assaults because he was suffering from a mental health crisis and was unaware of his actions. Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos and her team presented expert testimony to explain to the jury that Mr. Kennedy was in the midst of an acute psychotic episode that rendered him unconscious, which meant that he was not criminally culpable.
The charges stemmed from two consecutive incidents along the Embarcadero in February 2020, where Mr. Kennedy was identified as the person who attacked a jogger and then a tourist near Pier 39. Police tackled Mr. Kennedy while he was riding his bike and brought him into custody where he was immediately evaluated by Jail Health Services who flagged him for psychiatric treatment and ruled out drugs as a source of the psychosis.
“The jury understood that Mr. Kennedy was not conscious when these troubling incidents occurred. Cases like this are uncomfortable for all of us who care about the health and safety of our communities, but this case reminds us that criminal court is not the appropriate venue to address mental illness. Prison was never going to be the solution to Mr. Kennedy’s mental illness. Now, he can continue to get the medical care he needs through his full coverage with the Veterans Administration,” said Avalos.
The defense called five expert witnesses – one who testified about Mr. Kennedy’s diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, one who testified about what happens to the brain during an acute psychotic break, and three from Jail Health Services who have been monitoring Mr. Kennedy for over a year.
The jury deliberated for just over a day before delivering not guilty verdicts on both felony assault charges. The jury did find Mr. Kennedy guilty of a misdemeanor for resisting arrest, but due to an earlier dismissal and refiling of the case and pandemic-related court delays, he has been in custody awaiting trial for 14 months and was released for time served.
“This was a very difficult and sad case. Clearly, Mr. Kennedy suffers from serious mental health issues and did not have the awareness and intent that the law requires for a criminal conviction. This case is a prime example of how the criminal legal system is not designed to solve our public health and safety problems,” said Public Defender Mano Raju. “I commend our defense team who worked hard and skillfully to secure not guilty verdicts and avoid further incarceration for someone who is seriously ill.”
Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos of the Public Defender’s Office defended Mr. Kennedy, assisted by second chair, Deputy Public Defender Oliver Kroll, Law Clerk Matt Dalton, Paralegal Margaret So, and Investigator James Faulkner.