Police arrest public defender outside courtroom
The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office released cellphone videos Wednesday of a deputy public defender who was placed in handcuffs for resisting arrest outside of a courtroom on Tuesday afternoon after she attempted to represent her client while a plainclothes police officer tried to question and photograph him.
Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson, who has worked as an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office for 18 years, was detained and handcuffed around 2 p.m. Tuesday inside the San Francisco Hall of Justice.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said he was outraged and disappointed with how police treated Tillotson:
“She advised her client that he did not have to answer any questions, as is his right.”
Adachi said Tillotson refused to let her client be questioned without the presence of his attorney and she was subsequently detained. She is now facing charges of misdemeanor resisting arrest, a charge Adachi said has a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Adachi said he hopes the case against her is thrown out immediately.
Tillotson said she was in Department 17 on Tuesday afternoon representing her clients facing misdemeanor charges, as she routinely does, when she was informed that police in the hallway outside of the courtroom were attempting to detain and question one of her clients and another person. She exited the courtroom and saw her client, a black male, accompanied by another black male. Both were being questioned by police officers.
The two videos showing Tillotson’s detainment were shot by other attorneys, according to the public defender’s office.
The videos show San Francisco police Inspector Brian Stansbury, who is among the officers facing a lawsuit filed by a black San Francisco police officer in federal court that claims he was racially profiled during a traffic stop and then allegedly choked and tackled to the ground by officers in May 2013.
In the video, Tillotson repeatedly tells Stansbury and other officers:
“I am representing my client here.”
Stansbury tells the two males being detained that he needs to take their photographs and tells Tillotson that if she doesn’t step aside she will be arrested. Stansbury then handcuffs Tillotson and places her under arrest and she is then led away from her client.
Tillotson said she was taken to the Southern Police Station and handcuffed to a wall in a holding room for about an hour before she was let go. Adachi said he felt Tillotson’s constitutional rights were not respected by the San Francisco Police Department:
“This is not Guantanamo Bay, you have an absolute right to have a lawyer with you when you are questioned.”
Adachi said he “can only imagine what might be happening out there on the streets,” if police are acting “outside the law” inside the courthouse.
Adachi said the client that Tillotson was trying to represent was in court that day for a misdemeanor petty theft-related charge. Tillotson said Stansbury wanted to take photos of her client and that after she was taken away, her client was released without a citation or arrest.
“We are very concerned about racial profiling in the Police Department.”
San Francisco police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said Tillotson was detained by Stansbury for allegedly resisting, delaying or obstructing an officer trying to perform an investigation.
Esparza said Stansbury noticed two individuals in court that day who he thought might be related to a burglary that is still under investigation and called them aside to question them. Esparza said anyone interfering with a police investigation can be detained by officers.
Esparza said it appears Stansbury “acted appropriately,” but said that San Francisco police Deputy Chief Lyn Tomioka will be reviewing the cellphone footage handed over by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.
The civil rights lawsuit still pending against Stansbury, the city of San Francisco, police Chief Greg Suhr and Officers Daniel Dudley and Christopher O’Brien was filed by San Francisco police Officer Lorenzo Adamson.
Adamson, an officer at The City’s Bayview police station, was on disability leave because of a back injury at the time of the stop in the Bayview District at about 8:20 p.m. on May 30, 2013.
Adamson says in the lawsuit that he was pulled over because the license plate on his Honda Accord was not visible. Instead of asking him for his license and registration, the lawsuit alleges, Stansbury asked him whether he was on parole or probation.
As Adamson got out of his car and tried to explain that he was a police officer on disability leave, Dudley allegedly began applying a chokehold on him and tackled him to the ground, the lawsuit claims. The officers allegedly then grabbed Adamson’s police gun, handcuffed him, and held him facedown on the ground until backup officers arrived and identified him as a member of the police force, according to the lawsuit.
The suit alleges that the officers’ treatment caused Adamson severe pain and aggravated his back injury. Adamson’s attorney, John Burris, said shortly after the incident that Adamson had his license plate inside his car but that it wasn’t visible because he had problems mounting it.
Adamson was initially charged with resisting arrest and not displaying a license plate, but all charges were later dropped by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit includes federal constitutional claims of use of excessive force and violation of the right to equal treatment, as well as state law claims of racial profiling and assault and battery. It seeks unspecified financial compensation for lost pay, medical expenses and emotional distress as well as punitive damages for the officers’ alleged “malicious, wanton and oppressive” conduct.
Burris said today that Adamson has since returned to work and that the lawsuit against Stansbury and other members of the Police Department is still pending.