By The Vanguard Staff
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A 76-year-old man was acquitted this past week by a San Francisco jury of what appears to be a phantom hit-and-run, according to a statement released by the San Francisco Public Defenders Office.
Carlos Olivares Herrera, a longtime resident of the Mission District, may have been a victim of a “longstanding and unfounded animus by the person who filed the report against Mr. Olivares, but no actual evidence that a hit and run ever occurred,” suggested the PD Office.
According to the Public Defender Office statement, Olivares last August stopped to buy a soda for his passenger when he “noticed a local group giving away free bags of groceries. When Mr. Olivares inquired about the groceries, a volunteer first told him that he needed to get a ticket and wait, but then just gave him a bag.
“As Mr. Olivares walked back to his car, one of the organizers of the giveaway allegedly became incensed, so she ran after him to try to retrieve the bag. Although neither Mr. Olivares nor his passenger saw anyone coming after them, the woman claimed that the car hit her on the hip as it pulled into traffic.”
Deputy Public Defender Clemente Gonzalez represented Olivares in a trial, and said “there was no physical evidence to show that the woman had been hit or injured other than the statements she gave to the firefighters who responded to the initial 911 call. However, she did testify that she had recognized Mr. Olivares from the neighborhood and that she had a longstanding animus toward him because, prior to August 6, she had seen him occasionally drinking beer at a local park.”
About an hour later, the woman, said the PD Office, called police, telling them Olivares stole the bag of groceries, bought a beer and then hit her with his car as he was speeding away. She refused medical attention, said the PD.
But later she found Olivares, and appeared in crutches after calling the police, said the PD, adding “Mr. Olivares explained that someone had given him the groceries and denied being involved in any accident. Police found no evidence of alcohol impairment or possession, and his passenger still had the soda from earlier.”
However, police discovered that Mr. Olivares had an expired license, and then arrested him for hit and run, as well as driving with an expired license. The PD Office said, “Police never spoke with any witnesses from the food giveaway, nor made any attempt to obtain further evidence to support the charges.”
“This accusation was purely theatrical and bothersome because it exposed not only a real lack of community, but also how the power of police can be wielded so easily against someone like Mr. Olivares, who is low-income and whose first language isn’t English. Police never investigated Mr. Olivares’s side of the story,” said PD Gonzalez.
“I have no idea why someone, who was presumably trying to help her neighbors by handing out free food, would harbor such animosity against Mr. Olivares, but whatever the issue was, it could have been resolved through neighborly communication,” Gonzalez added.
The jury took only two hours before returning a not guilty verdict on the charge of hit and run. Olivares was found guilty of driving with an expired license, an infraction, and fined $50.
“We are grateful that a jury got to hear this case and made the right decision; it is always unsettling and a threat to all of our liberties when people weaponize calling the police instead of turning to each other over issues that could be resolved with more communication,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, adding, “Fortunately, Mr. Olivares had a Public Defender Team that was ready to expose the lack of evidence supporting the hit and run count.”