FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Feb. 2, 2023
MEDIA CONTACT: PubDef-MediaRelations@sfgov.org | Valerie Ibarra (628) 249-7946
Murder Charges Dismissed Against Men Implicated in Death of Famed Private Investigator Jack Palladino
Defense uncovered witness credibility issues;
Ongoing trial delays caused men to languish in jail for two years
SAN FRANCISCO – Prosecutors this week dismissed all charges against Lawrence Thomas and Tyjone Flournoy, who have been in jail for two years awaiting trial in connection with the death of famed private investigator Jack Palladino. Citing a lack of evidence, prosecutors dismissed the charges, which included attempted robbery and murder, on Jan. 31. Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway represented Thomas, and her defense team helped uncover witness credibility issues that contributed to the prosecution’s dismissal during a pretrial hearing. Flournoy was represented by a private attorney.
“The prosecution did the ethical thing in dismissing these charges, as none of the physical evidence corroborated the early assumptions reported by an unreliable witness,” said Hathaway. “It’s important for us, as Mr. Thomas’s legal team, to help clear his name after a flurry of misinformation was reported in the wake of Mr. Palladino’s death.”
On Jan. 28, 2021, Palladino was in front of his house taking photos with a large camera when he encountered Thomas and Flournoy, who were driving on a block that had been closed to through traffic during the pandemic. Palladino suffered a fall directly after the encounter, and the events leading up to the fall became the major focus of court proceedings.
A witness first told police that the passenger (Flournoy) tried to steal Palladino’s camera through the window, and that the driver (Thomas) then sped away, dragging Palladino by the camera before he fell and hit his head. That statement ended up to be false and unfounded.
At a preliminary hearing in April 2021, defense attorney Hathaway cross-examined the witness, who admitted that he never actually saw the interaction between Palladino and the men in the car, and had only assumed that they were trying to rob him. Physical evidence also contradicted the witness’s theory, as there was no DNA from the passenger found on the camera, which remained in Palladino’s possession.
Thomas maintained that he drove away because Palladino was yelling at them through the passenger window and hit their car with his hand, which other witnesses also heard. After the men drove off, Palladino lost his footing and fell. He was transported to the hospital and died several days later.
Despite these revelations, a judge ruled that the case could go forward, and Thomas and Flournoy asserted their right to a speedy trial. Their trial was set for September 2021, but the massive trial backlog in San Francisco Superior Court delayed the trial nearly 18 months beyond their Constitutionally-mandated deadline.
San Francisco Superior Court has accrued a massive trial backlog since the pandemic, and continues to violate speedy trial rights by delaying trials past their statutory deadlines. As of December 2022, there were 838 cases past their deadlines, including 147 individuals who remained jailed without trial. Throughout the pandemic, people in SF County jail have been subjected to 23-hour lockdowns, with limited visitation and programming, and no direct sunlight.
“Our defenders did the crucial work of scrutinizing the state’s evidence which led to a just dismissal, but there are hundreds of people, like these two men who just spent two years in jail, suffering the injustice of waiting for their day in court,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office has been taking legal and direct action to stoke the court to address the backlog.
The defense team for Mr. Thomas was led by Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway and Investigator Collin Olsen.
Reference: Case No. 21001067 | San Francisco Superior Court