An American Civil Liberties Union representative voiced his organization's concern Wednesday to the San Francisco Police Commission regarding the arrest of a deputy public defender last week inside the Hall of Justice.
“I think this incident raises questions. Do the police have a practice of photographing people in court rooms?” said Alan Schlosser, the ACLU's legal director for Northern California, about the arrest of Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson Jan. 28.
“What's happening out in the community where there are no video cameras and no lawyers?” he asked.
After a police officer had attempted to take photos and question Tillotson's client, she informed the client that he did not have to answer the officer's questions. When she protested the actions of the officer – identified as Inspector Brian Stansbury – he placed her under arrest, an incident captured on video that was disseminated by the Public Defender's Office. She was detained for about an hour and then released.
The commission was also addressed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who relayed the details of the incident and expressed his outrage over the arrest of an 18-year veteran of his office.
“I still want an apology,” Adachi said to Police Chief Greg Suhr and the commission, whom he beseeched to not remain silent on the matter. “I've been around the Hall for 30 years and I've never seen anything like this.”
Suhr did apologize for any stress the incident induced, but defended his officer's actions.
“I do apologize for any distress to Mrs. Tillotson,” he said. But he also said that the inspector whom Tillotson addressed had reasonable suspicion to take the photos.
The case, which Suhr said he'd been briefed on, will not result in any criminal charges.
But the issue did not end there; it sparked a brief but slightly heated exchange among commissioners.
Commissioner Petra De Jesus questioned the chief about what policies exist around police taking photos of people when their lawyers are present to make sure people's constitutional rights are being adhered to.
Suhr replied that police action in the courtroom has always been off-limits, but outside a courtroom, in the hallway, is another matter.
But De Jesus argued, “We can't go around arresting attorneys.”
“Unless they're breaking the law,” interrupted commission President Suzy Loftus, who pointed out that the incident is being investigated by the office of citizen complaints and there will be an inquiry into whether any discipline is called for.
In response to Adachi's request for commission comment, Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco pointed out that since the commission will stand as a judge over the matter, it cannot comment on an ongoing case.
The ACLU, however, sent a letter to the Police Commission demanding that it undertake a thorough review of the arrest of Tillotson.