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Police watchdog: officer wrongly arrested deputy public defender in courthouse

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Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson, right, was arrested by Sgt. Brian Stansbury in the Hall of Justice in January 2015. (Courtesy photo)
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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.

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  • JuiceWeasel

    Heartfelt thoughts and sympathetic prayers go out to Jami Tillotson.

    I hope she will be able to erase this embarrassing incident from her mind.

  • Psycho1473

    Does she accept any responsibility for her actions? Why argue with the policy officer. If she was correct and the officer had no legal right to speak with and take photos of the individual, than she could easily have that statement and that evidence/photos thrown out through the judicial system. File a motion to suppress if I’m fact the officer was over stepping his boundaries. But to argue and make a scene is unprofessional and reckless.

  • b00dah

    That is one sad commentary on the state policing in the country today. A total waste of time and another slap in the face.

  • b00dah

    Argue and make a scene… You can’t be serious. But then again I guess you are. That was about as brash and disrespectful a suspect we’ve seen, eh?

  • Onzie Travis

    Because she is a lawyer defending her client who has a 5th Amendment right to remain silent. The officer has the responsibility to inform suspects of that right before questioning.

  • b00dah

    And there you have it. This fundamental rule is repeatedly thrown to the wind on a frequent basis.

  • Psycho1473

    Miranda rights only attaches if the suspect is in police custody. As I understand it, in this case the individual was not.

  • Jim Marshall

    You hit the nail on the head, but not the way you were anticipating. Being brash and disrespectful does not warrant an arrest. When need to deal with the cowardice of police officers who arrest folks without cause like this. This is way there are so many problems with the police. They break the law at will are are not held accountable.

  • Jim Marshall

    IF you are not in police custody or not you don’t lose your right to console. Police cannot order you to raise your shirt and pose for photos. You can never be forced to answer questions and it is your attorney’s duty to point these out.

  • neroden

    Stansbury committed a *crime*. Several crimes. False arrest. Deprivation of civil rights. Et cetera.

    Why has Stansbury not been arrested and charged with his crimes? Are police above the law now? He needs to be clapped in irons and taken before the grand jury.

  • neroden

    Yes, Stansbury was a very brash and disrespectful suspect. Even now that a commission has found that he committed several crimes including false arrest, he still hasn’t been arrested, though. Why not?

  • steven meyer
  • b00dah

    Jim, my reply was to dispute Psycho1473’s post earlier. I’m assuming you thought I ageed with him/her… I do not.

  • b00dah

    Right on the money, neroden.

  • b00dah

    Spot on Jim. It amazes me that there are those who dispute what would be considered a basic and common right among mankind.

  • Dylan Wentworth

    Of course the police are above the law, you know that.
    They arrest people all the time because cowardly alpha bully cops want to show who’s boss but that’s getting off easy considering they often rob, hide, lie, beat, steal, murder and violate the rights of people with absolute impunity. They walk around with guns like it’s the wild west and are trained to use them if they so much as see their own shadow. They protect their own, just like a brotherhood of gang members or the mafia.

  • The resisting arrest part is just insane. This cop would be summarily fired and fined in Europe. The US has metastasized in to a post-democratic police state. This is unacceptable.

  • donnie vanderford

    Unbelievable and worse they are virtually no consequences for the officer making the false arrest. The police chief can only give a 10 day suspension and the district attorney was recently quoted after a federal jury acquitted 4 officers of excessive force as saying that it was hard to watch her boys being accused of wrongdoing. I doubt she will be indicting the officer for false arrest. Even when they are found to have done wrong there are no consequences.

  • Psycho1473

    It amazes me that there are those who protect criminals. People like you always demonize the police and always fail to see what the other people do to make the police do what they do. Regardless whether you believe he was just or not for taking the pictures or to for asking questions. As an attorney there is a better way to handle it than getting in an argument with the officer. The fact that you don’t like and think it was wrong doesn’t make it so.

  • Are you absolutely sure that you have not committed any crimes today, citizen? I’m sure we could find something if we looked hard enough. Best to assume you’re guilty, just to save time.

  • Herman Miller

    That is due, to a large measure, to people like Psycho1473 condoning it. If we ignore our rights for convenience we actually have no rights.
    Good on the lawyer for doing her job.

  • Kurtis Engle

    This is how cops act. Accept it. Stop pretending they are ‘the good guys’. Because when you stop doing that we can finally act.

    This cop should be jailed. Kidnapping under color of law. And the defendant should be freed. Interference with counsel. So. Let’s do it.

  • Jef Huggins

    friggin maggots

  • jwinstonsf

    These were not criminals. They are innocent till proven guilty.

  • 1MarianneD

    Mr. Shur, you and your boys need to up your honesty game, or leave San Francisco.

  • sffoghorn

    An attorney representing a client in a courthouse is an officer of the court just as a police officer is. The only difference is that the defense attorney was within bounds in her conduct as an officer of the court while the police officer was not. One need not accept “responsibility” for discharging one’s lawful actions as an officer of the court.

  • nutjob2

    This is disgusting. Can cops do anything that will get them punished? Intimidating defence lawyers with false arrest is beyond the pale.

  • nutjob2

    Let me guess: Trump voter and wanna be fascist. “Those with authority can do no wrong!”

  • Joe Joejoe

    Actually, this is the direct result of a full on democratic police state. Liberalism breeds a singular way of thinking, and punishing those who don’t agree with you, and justifying any action if it’s believed to be for the greater good. Hitler was a liberal. All the actions under him were the result of liberal self justification.

  • Joe Joejoe

    The problem was, the officer was ordering the man to stand still for the photo, while also questioning him…..while not being under arrest. If he was not under arrest, the officer can’t order him to do anything, nor could he arrest the man for not complying with his orders if he wasn’t under arrest.

    Your right to remain silent, is a fundamental right under all circumstances. Your right to have legal council speak for you, is also a fundamental right, and you don’t need to be under arrest to have a lawyer speak for you. That means if a cop even comes to your door to question you about something, you can have them speak to your lawyer rather than you. Police can only legally question you directly if you are under arrest, and only under the advice of legal council, unless you waive that right.

  • Jc

    lol, nice twisted logic buddy.. Tea party much?

  • Joe Joejoe

    Take a good read….because this is what real american freedom is based on…

    The Boston Tea Party (initially referred to by John Adams as “the Destruction of the Tea in Boston”)[2] was a political protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, on December 16, 1773. The demonstrators, some disguised as Native Americans, in defiance of the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company. They boarded the ships and threw the chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The British government responded harshly and the episode escalated into the American Revolution. The Tea Party became an iconic event of American history, and other political protests such as the Tea Party movement after 2010 explicitly refer to it.

    Tea Act of 1773 (13 Geo 3 c 44) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. The principal objective was to reduce the massive amount of tea held by the financially troubled British East India Company in its London warehouses and to help the struggling company survive. A related objective was to undercut the price of illegal tea, smuggled into Britain’s North American colonies. This was supposed to convince the colonists to purchase Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly agreeing to accept Parliament’s right of taxation.

    The Act granted the Company the right to directly ship its tea to North America and the right to the duty-free export of tea from Britain, although the tax imposed by the Townshend Acts and collected in the colonies remained in force. It received the royal assent on May 10, 1773.

    Colonists in the Thirteen Colonies recognized the implications of the Act’s provisions, and a coalition of merchants, smugglers, and artisans similar to that which had opposed the Stamp Act 1765 mobilized opposition to delivery and distribution of the tea. The company’s authorised consignees were harassed, and in many colonies successful efforts were made to prevent the tea from being landed. In Boston, this resistance culminated in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, when colonists (some disguised as Native Americans) boarded tea ships anchored in the harbour and dumped their tea cargo overboard. Parliamentary reaction to this event included passage of the Coercive Acts, designed to punish Massachusetts for its resistance, and the appointment of General Thomas Gage as royal governor of Massachusetts. These actions further raised tensions that broke out into the American War of Independence in April 1775.

  • Jc

    *2016* ..but I appreciate the effort..

  • Jc

    Some of the best copy paste research i have seen in a while! *applause* wiki??

  • Mark Talmadge

    Resisting Arrest is just law enforcement’s “catch-all” phrase for arresting civilians, just like “Obstructing Justice” charge. If an officer takes a photo of someone in a courthouse, I find it doubtful that any court, or any appellate court, would allow such pictures to be admitted into evidence for the purposes of identification.

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