A deputy public defender was wrongly arrested by a San Francisco police officer when she tried to stop the officer from talking to her client in the Hall of Justice last year, the Police Department’s watchdog agency has determined.
But Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson is discouraged by the conclusion of the investigation into her arrest. She said that while the video clearly shows the officer was in the wrong when he handcuffed her, the findings seem to indicate there will be little to no accountability.
“If you give a citizen of San Francisco a black eye, you should be held accountable for that,” she said. “I’d like to see [the officer] at a desk job. I don’t think he has a good idea of the boundaries of his authority.”
The finding comes from the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigated the January 2015 incident and issued their findings in December. The incident was caught on video.
Those case details were made public Friday by the complainant, and include findings that the officer made an arrest without cause, and that his detaining of a person without justification for a prolonged period was unwarranted.
Other allegations in the complaint were not sustained, but the OCC recommended that the department change its policies regarding interfering with a lawyer’s right to counsel their client and making inappropriate comments to the media.
The department could not say whether Chief Greg Suhr has made a ruling on the case. In sustained cases, the chief has the discretion to punish any officer for up to a 10-day suspension. Any punishment above that must go before the Police Commission.
Tillotson used to tell her clients that they should all file complaints with the OCC, despite many saying it was pointless. Now she agrees.
“I had more confidence in [the OCC] despite the fact that my clients were telling me it was a waste of time,” she said.
Tillotson was arrested Jan. 27, 2015, and booked on a misdemeanor resisting arrest charge for refusing to let a client of hers be questioned by a police investigator who was also trying to take pictures of the client.
The arresting officer, Sgt. Brian Stansbury, was questioning the man in connection with a separate criminal investigation.
Tillotson’s client was in court that day while she was in another courtroom for a case, when she heard that an officer was questioning her client in the hallway.
She walked into the hall and told her client he did not have to answer Stansbury’s questions, and tried to stop the officer from taking photographs. Stansbury objected and ultimately arrested her for resisting arrest and obstructing his investigation.
Since her arrest, the charges have been dropped and Suhr apologized for any distress the incident caused her, but has also insisted Stansbury had a reasonable suspicion to take the photos.
“I think this incident raises questions. Do the police have a practice of photographing people in courtrooms?” Alan Schlosser, the ACLU’s legal director for Northern California, previously said about the arrest of Tillotson.
Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink