Police union, public defender take shots at Boudin over sentencing

District Attorney Chesa Boudin is getting hit from both sides over a man being sentenced to eight years in prison for punching a police officer.

The Public Defender’s Office and police union each took shots at Boudin on Thursday for his perceived inaction on a request to reduce the sentence of 27-year-old Tyler Gress.

While defense attorneys wanted Boudin to support their request for a lighter sentence, the San Francisco Police Officers Association wanted him to oppose it.

But the District Attorney’s Office, which had previously recommended the eight-year sentence, did neither.

“It’s sad that the DA who I know personally who ran on a platform of treatment and decarceration and who was actually in court today didn’t take a position,” said Jaime Longoria, a deputy public defender who represented Gress.

“He should have given my client a chance in rehabilitation because I know he believes in it,” Longoria added.

On Thursday morning, the SFPOA dubbed the situation another “Boudin blunder.”

The union, which has harshly criticized the district attorney since before he won office, tweeted that Boudin “refuses to contest the defense attorney’s request for a significant reduced sentence against the defendant who attacked our officer.”

“Take a cheap shot at a cop and knock him out?” the SFPOA tweeted. “Reduce his sentence!”

Boudin is a former deputy public defender who ran on a platform of reducing mass incarceration.

The case at issue stems from Gress knocking out a police sergeant who was working security at a Ross Dress For Less on Fourth and Market streets last February.

The sergeant, Alex Kwan, was working an overtime shift at the Ross when Gress walked out and the store’s alarm went off.

Gress, who was under the influence of alcohol and methamphetamine, knocked Kwan unconscious with a single punch when the officer followed him out and detained him.

At trial, Longoria argued that Gress hit the sergeant because he mistakenly believed he was a loss prevention officer — and not a member of the San Francisco Police Department.

“In truth my client really didn’t know it was a police officer,” he said. “The issue for the jury was, was it reasonable for him to know it was a police officer, and obviously that defense didn’t work for us.”

Gress left the scene but later returned and surrendered to officers, Longoria said. He noted that Gress was not charged with theft and said his client did not steal from the store.

Gress was convicted of four counts related to assault on a peace officer last November and sentenced to eight years in prison.

But Longoria asked San Francisco Superior Court Judge Vedica Puri to reconsider the sentence.

On Thursday, prosecutors indicated that they might reconsider the sentence if given more time, Longoria said. But Puri decided to make a decision and upheld the eight-year sentence.

Public Defender Mano Raju said “We are very disappointed in the ruling by the judge.”

“This was Judge Puri’s first trial and the first time she sentenced someone in a contested hearing,” Raju said. “At a time when judges across the country are moving towards rehabilitation and drug treatment, it’s concerning that she would send a twenty-seven year old with no history of violence to prison for the maximum possible term of 8 years, for a single punch with no permanent injury. It’s even more tragic that this entire incident stemmed from Tyler being mistakenly suspected of stealing.”

Longoria called the sentence “grossly disproportionate to other cases” given that Gress has no prior violent convictions.

He did, however, acknowledge that his client has a criminal record including for vandalism and burglary.

Longoria had asked for probation with treatment, supervision and a four-year stayed sentence. He said Gress has been using methamphetamine on-and-off since age 11.

Longoria said the sentence would likely expose his client to more violence and speculated that it could potentially subject him to pressure to join violent gangs.

“The sad thing is that this is eventually going to create more of a public safety risk,” Longoria said. “Right now he is not a violent person. But now he’s going to go to prison.”

“He’s probably going to have to join the Aryan Brotherhood or some other gang and more likely than not he’s going to commit some violent offenses on some San Franciscans,” he said.

Gress is expected to be transferred from County Jail to state prison in the coming weeks.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional quotes and clarifying information.

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