BenSwann.com previously reported on the unusual case of San Francisco deputy public defender Jami Tillotson, who was arrested last month as she was leaving a courtroom at the Hall of Justice with a client who had been accused of shoplifting. The incident, which was caught on cell phone video that went viral worldwide, began when police, led by Sergeant Brian Stansbury, approached her and asked her to step aside so that officers could take photographs of her client and another nearby suspect. San Francisco police wanted to interview her client in connection with a separate crime, as the clothing he was wearing matched a description of those worn by a burglary suspect.
The police officers on the scene were operating under the legal interpretation that they were investigating a separate case than the one for which Tillotson was representing her client, meaning they felt that they had reasonable suspicion to pursue a line of “consensual questioning” and that the suspect had yet to formally obtain legal representation pursuant to that specific charge. However, Sergeant Brian Stansbury did not explain his line of thinking to Tillotson when he approached and asked her to let police photograph her client without her present. Consequently, Tillotson assumed that police intended to interrogate her client without counsel in violation of his rights, prompting her to refuse.
Sergeant Brian Stansbury then immediately escalated the situation and threatened to arrest her for resisting arrest, under the rationale that she was interfering with a police investigation. However, he did not clarify to her that he was investigating a separate case. Tillotson stood firm in her refusal, was arrested, and was handcuffed to a wall in a holding cell for an hour while her client was questioned and photographed without her present. A new video has emerged, seen in the above-embedded video player, which shows Tillotson being taken to her cell following her arrest.
Tillotson believes that her arrest was an attempt at intimidating her African-American client into waiving his rights to remain silent and legal representation. SFGate notes that Tillotson filed a complaint with the Office of Citizen Complaints which said, “As a result of my arrest, my client was left without the benefit of advice of counsel. The removal of counsel, and as such any protection against the actions of the officers, created an environment in which my client believed he did not have the right to object to the questioning.”
KQED News notes that San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr announced at a February 4 Police Commission meeting that Jami Tillotson would not be charged in connection with the incident. Said Chief Suhr, “I don’t disagree that [Stansbury] had reasonable suspicion, but that case … it has not been presented, and we will not be seeking a warrant on that matter. So there will not be criminal charges. It will be closed out as an investigative detention.”
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi was displeased with Chief Suhr’s response, particularly in how he maintained that Sergeant Stansbury had reasonable suspicion, and said, “I made it clear that what we wanted was an apology. Instead, there was a public statement saying that what they did was completely justified.”
“I do find it a little ironic that the protest was over taking a picture at the same time a video was taken and shown to millions of people,” said Chief Suhr, which raises questions as to how Tillotson’s presence would have constituted an act of interfering with the officers’ ability to take a photograph, as, according to Chief Suhr, bystanders were able to do so, even with her present.
Though the Police Commission will not rule on the incident until a thorough investigation has been conducted by the Office of Citizen Complaints, Commissioner Petra DeJesus seemed sympathetic to Tillotson’s plight at the February 4 meeting and said, “I mean we can’t go around arresting attorneys.” She indicated that she was interested in investigating the San Francisco Police Department’s policies on “confronting a suspect with his attorney.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California legal director Alan Schlosser issued a letter to the San Francisco Police Commission asking for clarification as to whether the incident was in keeping with police policies, which said, “The spectacle of two African American young men being targeted by the police within a public space inside a courthouse without their lawyer present, and then having that lawyer handcuffed and carted away for trying to advise them, raises the specter that other young men of color are being similarly targeted for intrusive investigations and photographing in the community where attorneys are not on the scene.”
Police Commission Vice President L. Julius Turman said, “There is a policy. It’s called the 6th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and we will take up in this process what violation, if any, occurred of that.”
Ultimately, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr gave in to pressure from the Public Defender’s office and said, “I do apologize for any distress caused to Ms. Tillotson during her detention.” The San Francisco Police Commission is expected to make its policy decision on the incident following an investigation by the Office of Citizen Complaints.