FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 23, 2021
CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org | (628)249-7946
SF Jury Acquits Longtime Mission Resident Wrongly Accused of a Hit-and-Run
SAN FRANCISCO — Last week, a San Francisco jury found 76-year-old Carlos Olivares Herrera, a longtime resident of the Mission District, not guilty of a hit and run accusation which appears to have been based on feelings more than facts. Deputy Public Defender Clemente Gonzalez represented Mr. Olivares in a trial which revealed a longstanding and unfounded animus by the person who filed the report against Mr. Olivares, but no actual evidence that a hit and run ever occurred.
On August 6, 2021, Mr. Olivares had parked on Folsom near 22nd Street to buy a soda for his passenger when he noticed a local group giving away free bags of groceries. When Mr. Olivares inquired about the groceries, a volunteer first told him that he needed to get a ticket and wait, but then just gave him a bag. As Mr. Olivares walked back to his car, one of the organizers of the giveaway allegedly became incensed, so she ran after him to try to retrieve the bag. Although neither Mr. Olivares nor his passenger saw anyone coming after them, the woman claimed that the car hit her on the hip as it pulled into traffic.
Nearly an hour later, the woman called the police and told them that she had seen Mr. Olivares buy beer, steal the bag of groceries, and then speed away and hit her with the car — but she twice refused medical attention. When she located Mr. Olivares three hours later parked on the same block as the alleged incident, she called police back. When police arrived the second time, the woman was using a pair of crutches as she made her accusations, but refused further medical attention. Mr Olivares explained that someone had given him the groceries and denied being involved in any accident. Police found no evidence of alcohol impairment or possession, and his passenger still had the soda from earlier. Police discovered that Mr. Olivares had an expired license, which he freely admitted to a Spanish interpreter.
Police arrested Mr. Olivares, who was charged with hit and run and driving with an expired license. Police never spoke with any witnesses from the food giveaway, nor made any attempt to obtain further evidence to support the charges.
During the trial, there was no physical evidence to show that the woman had been hit or injured other than the statements she gave to the firefighters who responded to the initial 911 call. However, she did testify that she had recognized Mr. Olivares from the neighborhood and that she had a longstanding animus toward him because, prior to August 6, she had seen him occasionally drinking beer at a local park.
“This accusation was purely theatrical and bothersome because it exposed not only a real lack of community, but also how the power of police can be wielded so easily against someone like Mr. Olivares, who is low-income and whose first language isn’t English. Police never investigated Mr. Olivares’s side of the story,” said Mr. Gonzalez who cross-examined the woman. “I have no idea why someone, who was presumably trying to help her neighbors by handing out free food, would harbor such animosity against Mr. Olivares, but whatever the issue was, it could have been resolved through neighborly communication.”
The jury deliberated for two hours before returning a verdict of not guilty on the hit and run. Mr. Olivares was found guilty of driving with an expired license and was fined $50.
“We are grateful that a jury got to hear this case and made the right decision; it is always unsettling and a threat to all of our liberties when people weaponize calling the police instead of turning to each other over issues that could be resolved with more communication. Fortunately, Mr. Olivares had a Public Defender Team that was ready to expose the lack of evidence supporting the hit and run count,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, who sued the SF Superior Court in September to open more courtrooms to address the massive trial backlog.
The defense team included Deputy Public Defender Clemente Gonzalez, Camila Valdivieso, Joslyn Timmons, Leticia Garcia, Larry Roberts and Sercan Ersoy.