San Francisco – “The only thing that mattered to Willie Flanigan was not to go to jail,” San Francisco Deputy DA Asha Jameson argued during her closing comments in the case against Mr. Flanigan. He is facing 11 charges stemming from his actions in October of 2017 that led to Office Lewin Tankel being struck while on a bike and left with permanent brain damage.
She argued that Mr. Flanigan had a choice, and he chose to recklessly flee as he sped away from police officers, which led to the tragic consequence for the young officer.
Mr. Flanigan faces numerous charges from his actions including evading police, assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest and hit and run resulting in serious bodily injury.
The pursuit was caught in various stages on a number of different videos. Witnesses testified seeing the defendant maneuvering through heavy traffic in San Francisco, turning at high rates of speed and often going the wrong way on one-way streets.
Another witness heard the collision between bike and car, and described seeing a black male in the Lexus, and testified that he saw the driver look around as though he knew he had hit a vehicle.
Ms. Jameson countered claims by the defense that the officers knew and targeted Mr. Flanigan due to a lawsuit, arguing that the first time he was identified was about 30 minutes after the officer was hit – at 12:59 pm. The reliable informant gave a name that turned out to be an alias of sorts, but that led to a mugshot and an identification.
Mr. Flanigan was located and arrested around 2:30 that afternoon and a fingerprint in the Lexus, which was stolen, matched his.
When he hit the officer, rescuers found him with no brain activity.
“He was dead,” she said. But thanks to heroic efforts by the neurosurgeon, he was revived. However, despite an amazing recovery, he suffered permanent brain injuries and will never be the same.
Ms. Jameson argued that “this evidence proves all of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Under the law, she argued, the reckless use of the Lexus to flee the police created a dangerous situation that turned the Lexus, in effect, into a deadly weapon. She argued that “he was doing something dangerous (evading the police at high speeds) with a deadly weapon.”
Ms. Jameson attacked the defense case as well. She argued that the testimony by Chris Kauderer, the traffic accident reconstruction expert, only confirmed that Mr. Flanigan was reckless. She said that Mr. Kauderer in his testimony acknowledged for the defense that Mr. Flanigan was driving at 15 mph and did not stop.
“This only goes to the fact that the defendant was driving recklessly,” she argued.
She further pointed out, “No one knew Willie Flanigan.” She said, “No one knew he filed a lawsuit.” She added, “Willie Flanigan was not targeted. This was just good police work.”
She told the jury, “I’m here today to ask you to hold him accountable.”
For the defense, the case may come down to the testimony of Chris Kauderer – particularly on the issue of assault with a deadly weapon.
Deputy Public Defender Alex Lilien pointed out that Mr. Flanigan may not have known that police were in pursuit of him and argued, “Was the SUV resisting arrest at the time of the injury?” He asked the jury, “Was there probable cause for the police to have pursued him at that time?
Did this conduct rise to the level of assault with a deadly weapon?
In response, Mr. Lilien argued that “negative behavior is not an assault.” He noted that his client did not willfully drive at someone.
Mr. Kauderer was an interesting figure in this case. A traffic reconstructionist expert for 34 years, he was originally contacted by the prosecution. However, after testing the scene and reconstructing the accident, he arrived at a very different conclusion.
He noted that the impact was in the far left corner of the vehicle. He came to the conclusion that the average driver had about 1 to 1.4 seconds to go through a perception response time procedure. Given obstructions and more, Mr. Flanigan, he estimated, only had about 8 tenths of a second based on the fact that he was about 20 degrees off center.
Mr. Kauderer concluded that Mr. Flanigan did not have enough time to shift or maneuver his car, in part because a Budget truck created a visual obstruction for the defendant. The prosecutor had argued against the Budget truck’s presence, but the defense produced a photo showing it double parked and thus creating an obstruction.
He argued, “Mr. Flanigan, did not have enough time to react or brake.” He said, “He couldn’t have seen the office in time to respond.”
Mr. Lilien argued, “This was a tragedy. He was a good cop.”
But he argued that although his client made bad choices, he did not commit an assault with a deadly weapon when he struck the officer’s bike.
—David M. Greenwald reporting