FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 10, 2021
CONTACT: San Francisco Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org – (628)249-7946
** PRESS RELEASE**
SF Jury Acquits Homeless Man of Arson of Russian Hill Residence
SAN FRANCISCO – This week, a San Francisco jury acquitted Erbert Mayek, 38, of numerous felony arson and arson-related charges stemming from a fire that started in a trash chute of a home in Russian Hill. Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos argued that there was no evidence that the fire was intentional and the jury found Mr. Mayek not guilty.
On September 2, 2019, a fire in an unlocked trash chute spread causing structural damage to an unoccupied house, whose owner primarily resides in the South Bay. During the trial, it was revealed that many unhoused members of the community were familiar with this largely unoccupied property. Video surveillance showed Mr. Mayek in the side yard of the residence at the time that the fire began, but there was no evidence that proved it was started intentionally. No one was injured and the damage to the structure has been repaired.
“The aggressive prosecution of my client is another example of how incidents related to poverty and homelessness end up being treated as a problem to punish rather than a crisis to prevent,” said Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos. “My client was innocent of these serious charges and I am relieved that the jury understood that this was an accidental and not an intentional fire.”
Mr. Mayek had been waiting anxiously for trial for nearly two years due to the COVID-19 trial backlog. During the trial, Mr. Mayek was forced to miss several days of work, and his employer warned him that he would lose his job if he kept missing work. In the end, his faith in the jury paid off, and now he can finally move on with his life.
“This case highlights the homelessness crisis in San Francisco where people, who already have so much stacked against them, are taking refuge wherever they can and are more susceptible to accusations,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “I am proud of Ms. Avalos and her team, and we are grateful that the jury focused on the evidence, scrutinized the prosecution’s expert, and came together to vindicate Mr. Mayek.”
The defense team included Deputy Public Defender Martina Avalos, Investigator James Faulkner, Paralegal Margaret So, and Law Clerk Mengyu Yang.