Feds drop gun case and judge blasts police after security camera contradicts officers' testimony
A federal gun-possession case was abruptly dismissed Thursday after a rare contradiction of police testimony by video evidence and an even rarer rebuke of police by the presiding judge.
San Francisco police officer Nicholas Buckley told the court that he and other officers tackled defendant Brandon Simpson in the city’s Tenderloin district in December after breaking up a dice game. He said Simpson began walking away rapidly, looking over his shoulder, with both hands tucked in his waistband, according to KGO and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Simpson did try to lurch away, as Buckley grabbed him. An illegal gun was found in Simpson’s possession after the takedown.
However, counsel for the defense had obtained security video from a nearby building, unbeknownst to the government. And it showed Simpson walking slowly toward police with one hand at his side and the other holding a water bottle.
“They went into court and just told boldfaced lies to the judge and to the U.S. attorney,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who is not involved in the case, told KGO.
Federal prosecutors and senior U.S District Judge Charles Breyer apparently reached similar conclusions: The feds asked him to dismiss the case against Simpson after the video was shown, and Breyer did, saying he was “deeply saddened” about convictions based on “perjured testimony.” He then told prosecutors to provide a record of the hearing and the video to San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr for “whatever action he considers appropriate.”
The judge also suggested that police should wear body cameras at all times, the Chronicle reports.
Spokesmen for the U.S. Attorney’s office and the police department had no immediate comment about the hearing, although a police sergeant said the chief “expects his officers to be honest and above reproach.”
Adachi said the hearing was unusual, in particular, because of the judge’s response, which he applauded.
“In San Francisco state courts, we’ve had our share of cases where videos have directly contradicted what police testified to,” he told the Chronicle, adding: “In most cases, the judge does not utter a word, and the case is dismissed.”
Simpson, 27, was a convicted felon on probation at the time of the incident, and police argued that they had a right to search him at any time. However, Breyer agreed with the defense that an appropriate foundation for the search was lacking.
Simpson “was merely walking down a public sidewalk when he was detained, tackled, and thrown to the ground by police officers,” wrote assistant federal public defender Ellen Leonida in a court filing.
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