Hundreds march in honor of late Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mourners march to remember Public Defender Jeff Adachi

Five days after the death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi, hundreds marched to City Hall late Wednesday for a candlelight vigil to remember a leader long viewed as a voice for the voiceless of San Francisco.

The crowd included his wife, Mutsuko Adachi, the famed defense attorney Tony Serra, and the mother of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old man who San Francisco police shot and killed in 2015.

Gwen Woods remembered Adachi as someone who stood up for her son when others would not, and for “black, brown and poor communities.” When the officers who shot Mario Woods avoided criminal charges last May, Adachi called the district attorney’s decision “mind-boggling.”

“Respect this man’s legacy,” Woods said, referring to media coverage of leaked police report on his death. “Respect this man’s family and let them bury him in peace, and stop tearing up his legacy.”

Adachi, 59, died at a hospital Friday evening after suffering an apparent heart attack at an apartment on Telegraph Hill. While questions remain about some of the details of his death, mourners focused on his life: his accomplishments and fearless pursuit of justice.

The air was cold and wet as the vigil began shortly before 7 p.m with an Aztec blessing for Adachi outside the Public Defender’s Office. Staff attorneys peered through the windows as a crowd formed around the dancers on the sidewalk and spilled onto Seventh Street.

Among the speakers who addressed the crowd were Matt Gonzalez, the chief attorney under Adachi, as well as former Police Commissioner Angela Chan, of the Asian Law Caucus.

Chan recalled that Adachi published videos that he said showed police entering rooms at residential hotels without warrants and stealing from residents. The videos led to an FBI investigation that eventually resulted in the discovery and release of racist text messages sent between officers.

“He received tremendous backlash from the police chief and from the police union but that did not faze him,” Chan said.

Chan said the text messages “made it impossible to deny that racial bias was real in our police department.”

The procession then moved through South of Market to the Tenderloin, where it turned down Turk Street to City Hall.

Adachi, who won five elections and served as public defender since 2003, is remembered for relentlessly defending clients in court, no matter the ramifications.

In his second year as public defender, Adachi created a program, still run by the office today, to help underserved youth and families in the Bayview neighborhood of The City.

“It’s extremely overwhelming for me right now,” said Yvette Robles, the former director of that organization, BMagic. “He is one of my greatest teachers who have shaped who I am today. I am sure this is true for countless others.”

The vigil comes a day after the Board of Supervisors mourned Adachi and largely condemned the leak of a police report that included details of what was discovered in the apartment where Adachi was before he died.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer led a call for a hearing on the leak, which police are investigating as a serious violation of department policy.

The report showed police found cannabis-infused gummies, open alcohol bottles and used syringes, the latter of which that medics might have left at the apartment.

The report also revealed that Adachi was with a woman named Caterina, who has since been named in the media as Catalina, when he suffered the medical emergency. The woman has yet to be identified.

A realtor named Susan Kurtz told police she loaned Adachi the apartment for a couple days.

Catalina called 911 to report that Adachi needed help at around 5:51 p.m. Friday. While medics arrived immediately, police were not called to the scene until nearly three hours later at 8:37 p.m.

Adachi died at a California Pacific Medical Center campus at 6:54 p.m. He is survived by his wife and daughter.

A public memorial is planned for Adachi at City Hall on Monday at 11 a.m.

Gonzalez, the second in command under Adachi, is leading the office until Mayor London Breed appoints a successor. Voters will then elect a new public defender in November.

“I saw him fight the powerful,” Gonzalez said. “I saw him battle the police, the DA, the judges — anybody that stood in the way of justice.”

“It’s true the he made a lot of enemies along the way,” he continued. “But he also made a lot of friends.”


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A group of Aztec dancers perform a ritual ceremony in honor of late Public Defender Jeff Adachi on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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