FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Aug. 14, 2023
CONTACT: PubDef-MediaRelations@sfgov.org | PIO Valerie Ibarra (628)249-7946
SF Jury Acquits Woman Who Defended Herself Against Stalker Who Sent Revenge Porn to Her Children
SFPD Investigators Never Followed Up on Her Claims of Self-Defense
SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco jury acquitted an SF woman on Friday of felony assault charges stemming from an October 2021 incident where she defended herself against a man who had spent years stalking and threatening her, including recording a sexual encounter without her consent and creating a fake Facebook account to send that video to her teenage children. At trial, Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine represented the woman, who is being identified as Maria in this press release to protect her privacy, and he argued that she acted in lawful self-defense and that the police failed to take her stalking allegations seriously.
On Oct. 25, 2021, the man, whom Maria had briefly dated three years prior, again showed up at her workplace, as he did on a daily basis. He threatened to send the explicit video to Maria’s other family members unless she went with him to his apartment. Once there, he hit and grabbed her from behind and she believed he was going to rape her. Maria grabbed a kitchen knife and sliced his arm to get away. The man’s relative came in from the other room and inserted himself into the altercation, getting a cut on his hand in the process. Even though Maria stayed on scene and told police she was acting in self-defense, police arrested her and prosecutors charged her with two counts of felony assault. On Friday, August 11, 2023, a jury acquitted her of both charges.
“I was honored to represent Maria, who deserved the justice that this jury delivered by fully acquitting her,” said Helvestine. “This egregious prosecution holds up an ugly mirror to the criminal justice system. It shows how police can refuse to meaningfully investigate certain leads, how prosecutors pursue cases based on half-truths in police reports, and how people who are clearly victims can end up being wrongly criminalized.”
“This egregious prosecution holds up an ugly mirror to the criminal justice system. It shows how police can refuse to meaningfully investigate certain leads, how prosecutors pursue cases based on half-truths in police reports, and how people who are clearly victims can end up being wrongly criminalized.”Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine
Witnesses at trial included two SFPD officers who acted as certified Spanish interpreters on the scene, one of whom also participated in Maria’s interrogation. Body-worn camera footage and transcripts showed that Maria made multiple attempts to explain the ongoing harassment, but the officers either left out key details from their reports or failed to translate everything she was saying. Police still had plenty of information documenting her claims, but never followed up with the people Maria urged them to contact in order to corroborate her story.
At trial, the defense called Maria’s teenaged children, who testified about receiving the sexually-explicit video from a man they had never heard of. Maria’s co-workers corroborated her claims that the man regularly followed her to and from work. All of the witnesses testified that no one from SFPD had ever contacted them.
“Trials are often the only time San Franciscans learn the truth behind certain charges and get a glimpse at the inner workings of the criminal legal system,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, whose office has been advocating for SF Superior Court to address the backlog of over 1,100 cases. Due to a number of factors, including the court backlog and witness availability, this trial was several months overdue. “I commend the defense team for its thorough investigation and representation of Maria, especially as they endured long delays for this trial to proceed.”
The defense team included Deputy Public Defender Will Helvestine, Investigator Jose Mendoza, and Paralegal Nathan Conn.