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Public defender: Client had every right to fight police

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San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi.  Credit: SFPublicDefender.org
San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi. Credit: SFPublicDefender.org


A man charged with resisting arrest and fighting officers assigned to San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit had every right to fight police, according to an official assertion by the city’s public defender.

The controversial legal strategy by Public Defender Jeff Adachi comes in the wake of surfacing videos of the July confrontation that shows 22-year-old African-American Michael Smith being punched by a BART officer while in handcuffs.

Smith was detained after reports were made of an armed man attempting to rob a passenger on one of the trains, which ultimately resulted in six counts of battery against a police officer and one count of resisting arrest. While police found no weapon on Smith, his confrontation with the officers landed him the current charges he faces.

While Adachi insists that Smith’s actions were in self-defense, Prosecutors say that Smith defied lawful orders, forcing police to take him down in a controlled manner befitting a confrontation with a possibly-armed man.

“His actions were necessary in order for him to save his life,” Adachi said in Smith’s defense. “This was a situation where the officers really made assumptions about him and acted too swiftly.”

While low-quality footage of the incident that circulated on social media shows officers pinning Smith down, Prosecutors say that currently-unreleased body camera footage from the officer shows Smith  “bite, kick, finger-gouge and spit” on the officers.

“We were even able to see the defendant kicking the body camera off the chest of one of the officers,” said Alex Bastian, spokesman for District Attorney George Gascón.

Adachi, however, feels any violence was initiated by police and was possibly even racially-motivated.

“What you see is the officers have him at gunpoint and then they immediately sweep his feet and slam him on the ground,” he said. “Mr. Smith is detained, yet they continue to use force. Even after they search him, they continue to use too much force.”

According to BART official testimony obtained by SFGate, Smith is no stranger to BART police interactions.

In recent years, Smith was arrested on petty theft and fare evasion charges. In both instances, he resisted arrest- even attempting to take control of an officer’s sidearm.

“Jurors tend to assume that the cops are telling the truth,” said law Professor Hadar Aviram of  UC Hastings in San Francisco, insinuating that “when it’s the cop’s word against the citizen’s word, it’s pretty difficult.”

Adachi will make his claim based on the assumption that police victimized Smith, citing previous cases of excessive force against unarmed black men and a need for better police training.

 

“They’re throwing the book at him,” he said.

 

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