Report Finds SF Public Defender Arrested without Cause

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Jami Tillotson

(From Press Release) San Francisco police wrongly arrested a Deputy Public Defender last year and unnecessarily detained her in handcuffs for an hour, the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints has found.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released the OCC’s Dec. 9, 2015 preliminary findings today after receiving them from the complainant, Jami Tillotson. The former San Francisco Deputy Public Defender made the complaint shortly after her Jan. 27, 2015 arrest outside a Hall of Justice courtroom.

Tillotson was arrested for allegedly obstructing police after she questioned why officers were photographing her client and another man outside a courtroom. She was led to the police station and handcuffed to a bench for an hour before being released. The district attorney declined to file charges. The incident, which was caught on video and viewed by 1.5 million people, sparked national outrage, particularly among public defenders.

The OCC sustained two of Tillotson’s complaints against the officers: Making an arrest without cause and detaining a person in an unduly prolonged manner without justification. Sustaining a complaint means a preponderance of the evidence proved improper conduct.

OCC investigators found a policy failure on the part of SFPD on two allegations, including the interfering with the right to counsel and conduct reflecting discredit on the department in the case of an officer who made inappropriate comments to the media following the incident.

The SFPD watchdog organization found training failure was at the root of a neglect of duty allegation against an officer who interfered with the rights of onlookers videotaping the encounter.

Several other allegations relating to the incident were either not sustained, found to be proper conduct, or there was no finding. It is unknown whether the officers were disciplined in the matter.

Tillotson said she was frustrated by the lack of information provided by the OCC and the police department.

“It is discouraging that even a year later in such a public case and where the allegations were sustained, there has still been no response as to whether the officers faced discipline or if there were any changes made in policy or training,” Tillotson said. “As a public defender, my clients would frequently tell me they didn’t want to file an OCC complaint even in the most egregious of circumstances because they felt it was a waste of time. This is particularly of concern in cases where someone is violently or unlawfully arrested, but a criminal case is never charged. The lack of response by the OCC in those circumstances means their ordeals will never be heard in court and it can therefore be presumed that no action will be taken regarding the officer conduct.”

Tillotson’s arrest was just one in a string of national incidents where public defenders faced disrespect and in some incidents, violence.

Last June, a Florida judge challenged and engaged in a physical fight with a veteran public defender after the public defender refused to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial. Also last year, a Mississippi judge permanently banned a public defender from his courtroom for her zealous representation and announced he would reassign all of her cases to private attorneys against the clients’ wishes and in violation of their 6th Amendment right to counsel.

This week, a district attorney investigator in Orange County beat a defense attorney bloody after the defense attorney scored a court victory against the district attorney’s office in the ongoing jailhouse snitch scandal.

“Public defenders represent people with little money and even less power,” Adachi said. “It is contempt for the poor that results in routine disrespect of public defenders. In the face of this contempt, Jami never wavered in her duty to her client. That’s because the right to counsel is a shield to protect ordinary citizens from intimidation.”

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5 thoughts on “Report Finds SF Public Defender Arrested without Cause”

  1. The Pugilist

    ZaqZaq posted this last time this issue came up: “Another nuisance lawsuit.  Last time I checked a defense attorney does not have the ability to stop a police officer from taking pictures of an individual in a public place.  She does not have the right to stand in between the officer and the person being photographed.  She did not represent one of the men involved and did not represent the other in that investigation.  In short she  has not role to play in that investigation.  When she attempts to interfere she is delaying or obstructing the officer which can result in an arrest.  She cannot delay or obstruct the police officer’s ability to take a picture be standing in between the officer and individual be photographed.  The proper recourse is to challenge the legality of the police conduct through motions to suppress in court. ”

    Guess he’s wrong based on the sustained complaint by the Office of Civil Complaints.

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for making an arrest without cause is Sustained.

    The allegation of unwarranted Action against a police officer for detaining a person in an unduly prolonged manner without justification is Sustained

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for interfering with the right to counsel is Policy Failure.

    In other words, according to the finding, the individuals had the right to counsel.  BTW, the office also ruled the detention of the suspects to be proper.

    1. Miwok

      Funny to me how the AG of CA used to be the DA in SF..

      Maybe these policies were implemented under her watch, or she failed to address these problems, and won’t now?

      To me it is just like when Jerry Brown was Mayor of Oakland, and as AG, he failed to clean up that mess, and as Governor seems to ignore it as well.

  2. zaqzaq

    Pugilist,

    Clearly the sustained “preliminary findings” of the OCC are wrong.  The OCC is a tool of the political SF Police commission that is the same entity that for years has refused to allow the police the use of Tazers.  I stand by my earlier position.  Below are the complete “preliminary findings”.

    The office of citizen complaints has conducted an investigation of the above-referenced complaint- A summary follows of the OCC’s preliminary findings as to each allegation:

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for making an arrest without cause is Sustained.

    The allegation of unwarranted Action against a police officer for detaining a person in an unduly prolonged manner without justification is Sustained’

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for interfering with the right to counsel is Policy Failure.

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for detaining two suspects without justification is Proper Conduct.

    The allegation of Unwarranted Action against a police officer for issuing an invalid order is Proper Conduct.

    The allegation of Conduct Reflecting Discredit on the Department against police officers for engaging in inappropriate behavior and making inappropriate comments is Not Sustained.

    The allegation of Unnecessary Force against a police officer for using unnecessary force is Not Sustained.

    The allegation of Neglect of Duty against a police officer for failing to comply with DGO 5.07, Rights of Onlookers is Training Failure.

    The allegation of Conduct Reflecting Discredit on the Department against a police officer for making inappropriate comments to the media is Policy Failure.

    The allegation of Conduct Reflecting Discredit on the Department against an unknown Police officer for engaging in inappropriate behavior and making inappropriate comments is No Finding

     

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