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San Francisco Public Defender Arrested While Representing Her Client

A video has recently gone viral.  The video shows a San Fransisco public defender being arrested by police officers who are attempting to take a picture of her client.  This took place inside the courthouse.  The attorney was arrested for “resisting arrest,” handcuffed, and detained for an hour.

Check out the video:


There has been an argument brewing online about this arrest.  There are a lot of details that make the situation a little murky.  First, the attorney was representing the men on a charge that was not included in what the police officers were investigating.  Second, the police didn’t ask them any questions, they simply took their pictures.

Some people have taken the stance that the attorney was meddling and got what she deserved.  They believe that the police were within their rights to take the pictures because the men weren’t being questioned or under arrest.

I tend to disagree.  The truth and story is told in a few words and actions.  One of the first things we hear the police inspector say on the video is, “I just want to take some pictures, ok, then he will go free.”  Let’s look at those few words again…..”THEN HE WILL GO FREE.”  That statement implies that her client is not free to do.  In fact, if he is being detained and pictures are being taken, wouldn’t it stand to reason that he has the right to have an attorney present?  I can’t imagine that the police would have simply let these men continue to walk away.  If this were a “consensual encounter” as it is being argued, then the men could have simply walked away without any consequence.  The facts that this attorney was not telling them to do so, that the men were standing against the wall in what could easily be described as a mug shot or lineup photo, and that the inspector said that they can go free AFTER he took pictures, implies that these men had been stopped and detained.  They should have been afforded the right to counsel.

The other problem I have is that they arrested this woman for “resisting arrest.”  If these men were not under arrest, which would forced the police to mirandize them, then she was not resisting or obstructing them from performing any arrest.  The word “obstruction” was added later.  As anyone can hear, the police use the phrase “resisting arrest” at the time.  There was no arrest.  There was clearly no resistance to arrest.  The charge was just a made-up reason to detain her while they did what they wanted.  The police abused their arrest powers to get an attorney out of the way while they did exactly what she was working to stop for her clients.  As I believe in most instances, the police have been granted certain authority.  With this authority comes the responsibility to wield their power appropriately.  They should be held to a standard that leaves no questions of abuse of power.

Finally, some question that the attorney had the right to step in because she was not counsel for the men in the case being investigated.  This is a little more obscure.  From what I understand of the law (and I am in no way an attorney so that means little), she is not actually their counsel on the case being investigated when they are approached.  I did a little reading on the subject of when the attorney-client relationship exists and here’s what I found:

  • One qualifier is that there must be some sort of attorney-client relationship.  Obviously this relationship exists as they are in the courthouse with her as representation on a case.
  • Another qualifier I found is that the attorney must acknowledge the relationship.  The attorney in the video clearly states that she is representing her client.  Obviously this requirement has been met as well.

The police have it established that this person is the men’s attorney.  That is reinforced by the inspector referring to her as “counsel.”  As far as the spirit of the law is concerned, I believe that it is unthinkable for anyone to assume that she should not be respected and treated as legal counsel for these men in this situation.  I don’t care if the public defender’s office has specifically assigned her to the new pdsofficecase.  Both she and they believed that she was their representation in this case.

The police in this case were wrong.  I’m not a person who criticizes the police quickly or easily.  I have friends and relatives who serve as officers.  I respect what the police do for us.  However, I don’t respect abuse of power.  I was told a long time ago that a leader stands up and admits his or her mistakes.  We will see if the San Francisco Police Department has real leadership, or a bunch of cowards who will bury the truth, hide behind technicalities, and do the wrong thing.  Police Chief Greg Suhr and the rest of the department should stand up, admit their mistake, and issue a real apology to the men involved, Public Defender Jami Tillotson, and the people of San Francisco.

To Ms. Tillotson…well done.


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