By Dylan Ferguson
SAN FRANCISCO – Valentine Sua, 28, was acquitted this week at trial in San Francisco County Superior Court on all carjacking and robbery charges stemming from an incident in May.
It was largely a case of his fear of police, and not knowing electric cars are so quiet you don’t know they’re on.
Instead of stealing this man’s car, Sua fled in order to avoid interacting with the police.
On May 2, 2020, Sua was visiting family and friends in San Francisco’s Sunnydale neighborhood. Sua had been experiencing car trouble and attempted to flag several people down to help jump start his car.
When a man in a Prius offered to help, Sua was confused by its quiet start—electrics, even hybrids, make no sound—and he assumed that the man had not turned on the car.
Sua reached into the Prius to start it, and asked for the key. The man, who had immigrated from China a year prior, did not understand what Sua was trying to say and thought he was being carjacked.
Sua had wanted to get into the driver’s seat of the Prius in order to jump start his car. However, the man ran away in utter confusion and panic. Quickly after this, Sua panicked and fled himself. Later, Sua was arrested and charged with carjacking and robbery.
“Mr. Sua’s panicked flight response was based on his previous interactions with police while growing up in Sunnydale where he has always felt like the police assume he’s guilty” said Deputy Public Defender Eric Fleischaker.
The defense team called upon a social worker, Larry Jones, Jr.,—who also grew up in Sunnydale public housing—to provide cultural insight to Sua’s response.
Valerie Ibarra from the SF Public Defender’s Office stated that “Jones spoke about the nearly constant and often negative police presence in the few square blocks of Sunnydale, which is monitored at all times by 59 surveillance cameras.”
The key evidence of this case was established by the 59 surveillance cameras. Footage from those cameras show that Sua had been trying to jump start his car all day by flagging people down and asking for help. Fleischaker stated that it proved to the jury that “Mr. Sua was intending to start his own car, not to steal someone else’s.”
Ultimately, Sua was found not guilty on both counts. This is another step in the right direction for Sua.
Despite system involvement in his younger years, Fleischaker stated that he has gotten his “life back on track with a job, promotion, a wife, and a child. Fleischaker also stated that now that Sua has so much to lose, his genuine “reaction was to flee.”
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