Public Defender: Racial Disparities Pervasive In SF Criminal Justice System

by Susie Steimle

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — San Francisco’s criminal justice system is facing accusations of pervasive disparities in the treatment of minorities, from police arrests to booking charges and prosecutions.

A study commissioned by the Public Defender’s Office shows black defendants are held 62 percent longer than white defendants. Once arrested, cases for black defendants take 14 percent longer to resolve, and black defendants are 62 percent more likely to be charged with felonies.

The study also shows police in certain neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point, The Mission and The Tenderloin are more likely to add felony charges for black defendants.

At a press conference Tuesday, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his office is starting a pre-trial release unit in October with funding provided by the city and supported by Mayor Ed Lee. The program will allow public defenders to meet with arrestees earlier on in the process in order to identify the cases with excessive charges, and get them thrown out before a trial begins.

Adachi said the process starts with police filing excessive charges against minorities, and the booking charges create a ripple effect, accounting for 72 percent of the conviction gap between black and white defendants in misdemeanor cases and 46 percent in felony cases.

“You have a police department that trains its officers and charges essentially whatever they can imagine,” said Adachi.

65-year-old Leslie Elliott tearfully told reporters of her experience of being tackled to the ground by a white police officer after being arrested in February.

Her offense – spilling her coffee on a white woman. “I’m still afraid to walk the streets of San Francisco,” said Elliot I’m afraid police will take me and hurt me again.”

Police charged her with six counts, including mayhem, for spilling coffee on a white woman at Dottie’s Café on Sixth St.

A jury found her not guilty of all charges, with the exception of resisting arrest.

“Leslie sat in custody for 115 days on a $300,000 bail,” said Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Camacho.

Adachi says it’s stories like Leslie Elliot’s that prove there’s a problem with the criminal justice system in San Francisco, and that the courts system and police department are acting in a racist manner. “Every citizen in San Francisco should be outraged about this because you don’t ever want to be in a situation where you’re accused of something you didn’t do.”

The police department has been trying to repair its frayed relationship with minority communities after a series of fatal officer-involved shootings and the discovery of racist and homophobic text messages routinely sent between officers.

San Francisco Police would not go on camera for this story but released this statement: “Our officers charge individuals based on the elements of the crime(s) present … Whether a case moves forward or not depends on the district attorney’s office ability to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

 

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