By The Vanguard Staff
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – After a year in jail, charges were dismissed against Bernardo Tamayo on Feb. 14, who was “falsely accused of tampering with a vehicle, robbery with a gun enhancement, and illegal possession of a firearm,” according to a statement released Monday by the SF Public Defenders Office.
The PD Office said the charges were dropped only when PD Lamb provided evidence to the judge that the “alleged victim was going to lie on the witness stand.” Lam said the prosecution only then dismissed the charges in the middle of a trial.
Deputy Public Defender Cris Lamb said he even wonders if anything had taken place at all and “why Mr. Tamayo had been included in a police photo lineup when he did not bear any resemblance to the alleged suspect.”
Tamayo is a heavyset Latino—the alleged victim said the suspect was white and skinny. A witness said the suspect was African American.
Lamb, in opening remarks to the jury, said, “This is a cautionary tale of what can happen to an innocent person when police get tunnel vision. Tunnel vision is when your focus is so narrow that you miss glaringly obvious things that a person with clearer vision would see.”
The defense team said it found “the police investigation in this case to be problematic in many ways. “
A man called police in November 2020, claiming he saw someone “tampering” with his catalytic converter, and that he and the “suspect” got into a fight, and eventually the alleged thief stole the man’s cell phone at gun point. The man described the thief as white, skinny, short and blonde.
Later, the defense said it discovered the so-called stolen iPhone wasn’t owned by the man who made the initial call to police and that the man didn’t even know the number to the phone.
The defense said it also uncovered evidence that an eyewitness offered a statement to police but “officers refused to take it.” The witness, said the defense, months later noted there was no gun and described the suspect as “African American.”
The defense investigation then unveiled that only a “beanie” was evidence, and it came back with several possible matches, including Tamayo. But “Mr. Tamayo did not match the physical description of the suspect…(and) Nothing obtained during (a) search could be linked to this reported incident” at a place that Tamayo frequented.
Finally, the defense charged “the way the photo lineup was conducted violated California law in several ways. The statute requires that the people in the lineup must match the description of the suspect, no one can unduly stand out from the rest, there can only be one actual suspect in the lineup, and a video must be taken of the viewing in order to detect any non-verbal cues or suggestions. None of this was followed by SFPD.”
Tamayo didn’t fit any of the descriptions. He’s heavyset and Latino, noted the defense, adding he has a “distinct tattoo on his face
Tamayo was arrested and charged with several felonies, and the prosecutor argued against letting him out on bail pretrial. The defense said Tamayo then spent “close to one year in jail before being brought to trial over seven months past the legal deadline.”
Once in trial, the judge then “assigned the man (who said he was robbed) his own counsel who reviewed the evidence and directed the man to plead the Fifth Amendment to any questions during testimony so as not to incriminate himself. This left the prosecution with no witness and insufficient evidence, so the charges were dropped,” said the defense.
“The entire defense team did a remarkable job uncovering the injustice that Mr. Tamayo suffered by being falsely accused of these serious charges,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju.
Noting, “We need more courtrooms open for trial precisely to prevent further injustice for people like Mr. Tamayo,” PD Raju is pursuing legal action against San Francisco Superior Court which, he charges, has “continued hundreds of criminal trials past their legal deadline, leaving many to suffer the harsh conditions of jail during the pandemic.”