By The Vanguard Staff
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In what the San Francisco Public Defender Office charges is yet another failure of SF Superior Court, a man was found not guilty after a jury trial last week—but only after he spent nearly five years in jail.
A San Francisco jury acquitted Thomas Ortiz, 26, after “public defenders established he had acted in self-defense during a fight that took place early New Year’s Day 2017 between two groups of young men who encountered each other outside a convenience store near 26th and Folsom Streets in San Francisco,” according to a statement from the SF Public Defender Office.
The office said the dispute ended with the death of Ernesto Rosales, 21.
“The San Francisco Superior Court’s delays in re-opening more courtrooms for trials in the wake of the COVID pandemic contributed to the egregious delay in this case going to trial,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju, who sued the San Francisco Superior Court in 2021 regarding its failure to re-open enough courtrooms for trials, and who led a protest rally last week on this issue.
“Mr. Ortiz, who is now 26, was jailed for nearly five years before he got to defend his innocence at trial. His defense team worked skillfully and compassionately to show that the prosecution was using fear rather than facts to try to prove their case,” Raju added.
“Despite not charging gang enhancements in the case, prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to argue that because Ortiz had friends who had been killed in unrelated incidents, and because he had appeared in a hip hop video, that there was a gang motivation in this killing,” said the SF PD.
The public defenders added, “The jury heard extensive evidence and testimony from the defense undercutting the prosecution’s theory during the three-month trial. Now-District Attorney Brooke Jenkins was the lead prosecutor on the case prior to leaving the District Attorney’s office when it was under the leadership of Chesa Boudin.”
“Our client, Thomas Ortiz, was acquitted because it was an act of self-defense. Mr. Ortiz had never been arrested before. He fired one shot in self-defense after another individual pulled out a weapon and after someone else threw a bottle at Mr. Ortiz’s face,” said Deputy Public Defender Yali Corea-Levy.
Corea-Levy added, “Mr. Ortiz had grown up in a chaotic environment, had been the target of violence before, and had lost friends to violence. We know that he would not have shot the gun if he hadn’t been in fear for his life. In fact, he first used the gun as a blunt object to defend himself in the altercation before he fired a single and tragically fatal shot.”
“While this was a difficult and emotional trial for everyone involved, it was especially frightening and outrageous to see the police and prosecutors rely on racist presumptions about Latino men and faulty information to try to associate Mr. Ortiz with a gang in an attempt to scare the jury into overlooking the facts,” said Deputy Public Defender Sylvia Cediel.
“Thanks to further investigation from our office, we were able to share more about who Mr. Ortiz really is and that much of the police and prosecution’s evidence was flawed,” the DPD added.
The SF PD said, “After a preliminary hearing, Ortiz invoked his Constitutional right to a speedy trial, and was entitled to have his trial by March of 2021. Instead, the trial didn’t start until 15 months later, all the while he was in jail during the entirety of the pandemic. The trial lasted three months, and the jury deliberated for just over a week before acquitting him on all charges.”