FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 15, 2022
MEDIA CONTACT: San Francisco Public Defender’s Office | Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org | (628)249-7946
SF Jury Acquits Longtime Violence Prevention Activist of DUI Charges
SAN FRANCISCO – Last week, a San Francisco jury took less than an hour to acquit Richard Isom of a misdemeanor charge of DUI. Deputy Public Defender Zachary Waterman defended Mr. Isom, who testified that he was not intoxicated when his tire blew out on 280-South near Ocean Avenue, but rather that he consumed alcohol in the panic that followed.
“I appreciate the jury for understanding the circumstances and making the right decision to acquit Mr. Isom who was not driving while intoxicated, but rather was shaken by a life-threatening accident,” said Mr. Waterman. “Mr. Isom has spent much of his life giving back to his community and would never do anything to endanger others.”
On September 21, 2021, Mr. Isom was driving home from a social gathering when he hit a pothole, popped a tire, and spun out on the freeway. Unable to move his car off the roadway, and the emergency hazard lights no longer working, he knew he needed to get to the side of the road. In the panic, he grabbed unopened wine from his car and drank it on the side of the road as he waited on hold with the tow truck company for over 30 minutes.
When police arrived, they gave him a breathalyzer test that showed his blood alcohol was above the legal limit. Although he admitted to consuming two drinks prior to the car incident, an expert testified that, due to his size and the timeframe, those two drinks would not have elevated his blood alcohol to an illegal level.
Mr. Isom attributed his panic, in part, to the fact that he had previously lost a family member to a freeway pile up, and had his own brush with death during a severe case of COVID-19. He had just recently recovered after being hospitalized, in a coma and on a ventilator, not knowing whether he would live to raise his young son. The experience of having COVID inspired him to advocate for people in the Bayview to get vaccinated, and he currently volunteers at a COVID testing site to feed the staff.
“Mr. Isom has long been a pillar of the community, working with youth to help end cycles of violence and incarceration that he experienced as a young person. This incident stemmed from a traumatic freeway accident and a subsequent misunderstanding, not any criminal conduct. I am glad that he was able to have a jury listen to what happened and judge it fairly,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.
The defense team was led by Deputy Public Defender Zachary Waterman with support from the Public Defender’s Research Unit and Misdemeanor Unit.