Jury convicts deputy of assaulting hospital patient

A jury found San Francisco sheriff’s deputy Michael Robert Lewelling guilty Tuesday of criminal charges stemming from video surveillance footage of an assault on a patient at San Francisco General Hospital in November 2014.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced today that Lewelling, 34, was found guilty of felony assault by a public officer and misdemeanor battery:

“Anytime an officer violates the law, it is damaging to all of law enforcement. What is even more troubling is that this occurred at a hospital. … No one is above the law, most of all those who enforce it.”

Gascon said that Lewelling faces a maximum of three years in state prison, which may be served in county jail.

Mark Nicco, an attorney for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department said today that Lewelling was arrested in December and while he is now on unpaid administrative leave, he was on paid administrative leave for a number of months following his arrest.

Nicco said Lewelling was out of custody during the trial and is still an employee of the sheriff’s department.

Lewelling is subject to discipline by the department once the court judgment is imposed and after the finalization of the department’s internal affairs investigation, according to Nicco.

The internal affairs investigation was sparked by the complaint against Lewelling and once that investigation is completed, Nicco said, there will be an administrative review at which time the department will consider making any changes to their policies and procedures.

San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian said that the victim, Fernando Guanill, was 59 years old at the time and chronically homeless.

On the day of the incident, Guanill, who uses a cane to get around, had been waiting to be seen in San Francisco General Hospital’s emergency waiting room. He also had an appointment at the hospital with his orthopedic surgeon later that morning to schedule knee surgery.

The video footage of the Nov. 3, 2014 assault captured Guanill sleeping in a chair in the hospital’s emergency room waiting area, prosecutors said.

Bastian said a nurse asked Lewelling to remove Guanill from the waiting room because he had been verbally abusive.

Lewelling approached the victim as he started to wake up and the two engaged in a conversation, at which point the victim slowly stood up, using his cane for assistance, prosecutors said.

Guanill was leaving the waiting room when Lewelling pulled him down to the waiting room chair with excessive force. He then allegedly grabbed the victim’s throat and startED to choke Guanill, before placing the victim under arrest.

Lewelling then filed a police report alleging that the victim attempted to assault him with a wooden cane, prosecutors said.

Guanill was arrested on suspicion of felony and misdemeanor charges, and the case was presented to the district attorney’s office the following day, according to prosecutors.

However, district attorney’s office officials requested the waiting room video and declined to press charges because the report did not match the actions on the video, Bastian said.

Prosecutors said the victim was released shortly after his arrest and never raised his cane in a threatening manner.

Lewelling was arrested in December on a warrant for four felonies, including perjury, filing a false police report, filing a false instrument and assault, as well as misdemeanor count of battery, prosecutors said.

Sheriff’s department officials said the department’s Criminal Investigations Unit, which was formed in May 2014, made the arrest after a six-week investigation.

Guanill testified about the trauma he suffered at Lewelling’s trial.

The jury found Lewelling not guilty today of charges relating to allegations that he filed a false report and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury.

“This verdict shows that even our most vulnerable populations are protected by the law,” Assistant District Attorney Nancy Tung said Lewelling will be sentenced on Oct. 7, by the Honorable Ellen Chaitin, who presided over the case, according to the district attorney’s office.