Lawyers angry over deputy public defender's arrest want to give cops pocket Constitutions 

click to enlarge Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson is shown here being arrested on Jan. 27. - COURTESY THE PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy the Public Defender's Office
  • Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson is shown here being arrested on Jan. 27.

The uproar, particularly in the legal community, over the arrest of a deputy public defender last month in the Hall of Justice by a San Francisco police sergeant has not abated. Now three lawyers who were particularly perturbed by the actions of police have created a fundraising website to raise money to purchase a pocket copy of the Constitution for every San Francisco police officer, according to one of the campaign's organizers, Adam Graff.

The incident Graff and two friends are upset about is the Jan. 27 arrest of Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson after she intervened on her client's behalf while he was being questioned and photographed in the hallway of the Hall of Justice by Sgt. Brian Stansbury, who said he was questioning the man in connection with a separate criminal investigation.

Tillotson's client was in court that day for a misdemeanor hearing and was in another courtroom for a case when she heard that Stansbury was questioning her client in the hallway.

She immediately intervened and told her client he did not have to answer Stansbury's questions or allow him to take photographs. Stansbury objected and ultimately arrested her for resisting arrest and obstructing his investigation.

Since Tillotson's arrest, the charges have been dropped and police Chief Greg Suhr has apologized for any distress the incident caused her, but has also insisted Stansbury had a reasonable suspicion to take the photos. The case the sergeant was ostensibly investigating will not result in any criminal charges, Suhr said.

Tillotson issued a statement on the apology on Thursday and also filed a complaint with the Office of Citizen Complaints, which reviews complaints made against police.

“While I appreciate Chief Suhr’s apology, I am concerned that he continues to support Sgt. Brian Stansbury’s actions,” she said in the statement. "The right to counsel is not a formality. It is a shield that protects ordinary people against intimidation, bullying, and overreach by law enforcement.”

She also alluded to a case pending against Stansbury where he is accused by another San Francisco police officer of racial profiling. Both Tillotson and Public Defender Jeff Adachi have said they feel San Francisco police officers need additional training on issues of civil rights and protections.

“We believe that SFPD is in vital need of training so that constitutional violations are not perpetrated on citizens in our community,” Adachi said. Perhaps pocket Constitutions can be a good start.

The SFPD Constitutional Education Fund, created by Graff, Daniel Watts and Tom Garberson, who are law school buddies from UC Davis, is intended to send a message, Graff said, and keep a critical eye on police. Their idea is that if this can happen in the Hall of Justice, it can happen anywhere.

Graff spoke to The San Francisco Examiner on Friday and said that if the campaign is fulfilled, they intend to hand-deliver the Constitutions to the Police Department, and “what they choose to do with them is up to” them. “Our intention is to make them aware that what they did was unconstitutional and they seriously need to review their processes.”

Graff, who has a history in civil rights litigation said the case “resonates with me on a visceral level.”

To donate to the campaign, visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/sfpd-constitutional-education-fund. It will be open to donations until March 4.

Below is a copy of the complaint Tillotson filed with the Office of Citizen Complaints.

OCC complaint filed by DPD Jami Tillotson

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