FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 26, 2022
MEDIA CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office | Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org | (628)249-7946
SF Jury Acquits on Assault Charge in a Trial That Came 7 Months Late for a Man Jailed for Nearly a Year
SFPD took 9 months to turn over video that the jury used to reach its not guilty verdict
SAN FRANCISCO – This week, a San Francisco jury relied heavily on a surveillance video that was not turned over by SFPD until nine months after the incident in question, to acquit Islam Natsheh of felony assault charges. Deputy Public Defender Max Breecker argued that the video showed Mr. Natsheh briefly jump in to defend a companion who was engaged in an altercation with another man who sustained several cuts, but that there was no evidence suggesting that Mr. Natsheh had possessed or used a knife in the fray. The acquittal on the primary felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon came only after Mr. Netsheh spent eleven months in jail, seven months beyond his trial deadline, largely due to the growing backlog of felony trials in San Francisco Superior Court.
“It’s a shame that we had to wait so long to litigate this case due to the court’s trial backlog and that this video surfaced so late that we didn’t have a chance to argue for Mr. Natsheh’s innocence and liberty much sooner,” said Mr. Breecker.
The jury acquitted Mr. Natsheh of felony assault with a deadly weapon, and hung 7-5 in favor of not guilty on a secondary charge that has now been dismissed.
“Everyone in this country is entitled to a speedy trial and that simply is not happening in San Francisco. While the courts have just recently been sending more cases to trial, we’re still only utilizing about a third of the available courtroom space in San Francisco while hundreds of legally-innocent people languish in jail under 23-hour lockdown well beyond their trial deadlines,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, who has taken several legal actions to stoke the court into action. “Mr. Breecker and his team worked diligently to represent Mr. Natsheh, but were nearly stymied by a severe negligence of police investigators who sat on a video for nine months. Prolonged incarceration inflicts untold psychological harm to those who are jailed, and comes at a great cost to our city.”
As of May 6, 2022, there were 441 people with pending felony cases past their statutory deadline, or “last day” for trial, of whom 221 were in custody; and there were 187 people with pending misdemeanor cases past their last day, of whom 29 were in custody.
The defense team included Deputy Public Defender Max Breecker, Investigator Jill Schroeder, Paralegal Susan Frommer.