Muni camera helps free an innocent man

Muni cameras — unpopular with some as intrusive and Big Brother-esque — are getting some redemption lately.

The inward-facing cameras to nab criminals on Muni buses and trains can actually be used to prove innocence.

Take the case of Billy O’Neal, 58, who was accused of child abuse a month ago. A San Francisco jury acquitted O’Neal last week of all charges after watching a surveillance video on the bus where the incident supposedly happened.

An 11-year-old accused O’Neal of pinching her, pushing her from her seat and calling her a “stupid-ass kid” while riding the bus July 6.

When confronted with these accusations at the time, O’Neal got off the bus, shouting that he never touched a child. He was arrested at McAllister and Laguna streets on suspicion of misdemeanor battery and child abuse.

So what really happened?

According to the video, O’Neal boarded a 5-Fulton headed for downtown and took an empty seat between the girl and an unidentified man. The girl looked at O’Neal — taking the bus to a homeless shelter — then got up and changed seats.

An offended O’Neal asked a nearby woman if she was the girl’s mother. The video then shows the girl complaining to the bus driver that O’Neal had assaulted her.

The girl stuck to her story throughout the trial. The video, though, showed otherwise, according to the Public Defender’s Office.

O’Neal spent a month in jail awaiting trial. He was released after being found innocent.

Deputy Public Defender J.P. Visaya told SF Weekly’s The Snitch that the jury was in disbelief that the case made it this far considering the evidence:

“Jury members didn’t understand how this got to trial when the District Attorney had also seen the footage. One juror said it felt like they were on the show Punk’d.”