“This is not Guantanamo Bay. You have an absolute right to have a lawyer with you when you’re questioned. Ms. Tillotson was simply doing her job,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi at a Wednesday press conference cited by SFGate. Adachi launched the presser to express his office’s outrage over Tuesday’s arrest of public defender Jami Tillotson, which was caught on tape in the above-embedded video.
Tillotson was exiting a courtroom in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice Tuesday afternoon with a client accused of shoplifting and a co-defendant when plainclothes San Francisco Police Department Sergeant Brian Stansbury and four uniformed officers approached and asked Tillotson to step aside so that officers could take photos of her client without her present. Though police on the scene did not explain themselves at the time, they intended to question her client and obtain photos for a lineup in connection with a separate case in which they say her client is a person of interest, which they interpreted as “consensual questioning,” rather than a formal interrogation. The officers felt that, due to the fact that Tillotson’s client had not been arrested on that specific charge, they were entitled to question the suspect without Tillotson present and ordered her to step aside to allow them to take photographs.
When she refused to step aside, Sergeant Brian Stansbury said that she would be arrested for “resisting arrest” if she did not comply. Tillotson stood firm in her refusal and was arrested. A fellow lawyer captured the above-embedded footage of the incident on video. Following Tillotson’s arrest, she was left handcuffed to a wall in a cell for an hour while, according to SFist, police questioned and photographed her client without her present. San Francisco Police Department spokesperson Officer Albie Esparza told SFGate that Tillotson was released an hour later because Sergeant Brian Stansbury was called away to testify in another case.
According to SFist, a spokesman for the Public Defender’s office noted the fact that the officers did not specifically explain that their intention was to question her client in connection with a separate crime, “[Tillotson] told the interrogating officer that she was the attorney, and he said, ‘I just need two minutes with him.’ When she asked why, he just said it was a police investigation. Then he started basically bullying her, telling her she’s interfering.”
“It was very clear to me that I hadn’t been doing anything illegal. I was challenging him, telling him that you know that I know that I did not violate the law. He moved it forward,” said Jami Tillotson at Wednesday’s press conference.
Officer Esparza said that police are investigating the arrest and that “the department will forward this to the district attorney’s office when appropriate.”
Public Defender Jeff Adachi is calling for police to be held accountable for Tillotson’s arrest and said, “A uniform does not give anyone license to bully people out of their constitutional rights. If police are able to do this to a deputy public defender in front of her client, I can only imagine what is happening out on the streets.”
The City and County of San Francisco is currently facing a federal civil rights lawsuit over a prior incident in which Sergeant Brian Stansbury and two of his colleagues allegedly engaged in racial profiling during a traffic stop with an off-duty African-American police officer in 2013.