Is the SF District Attorney’s Office biased against cyclists?

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Cyclists visit the intersection where cyclist Amelie Le Moullac (pictured on in a memorial on the post) was killed last year
Steven T. Jones

There’s been much discussion over the last year about whether police and prosecutors in San Francisco are biased against bicyclists. And while the San Francisco Police Department has admitted problems in their investigations of collisions that injure cyclists and pledged to do better (with mixed results), the District Attorney’s Office doesn’t seem have gotten the message.

The cyclist community was appalled last month when District Attorney George Gascon refused to follow SFPD recommendations and file criminal charges against the commercial truck driver who killed cyclist Amelie Le Moullac in August, a high-profile case that highlighted SFPD bias and triggered a series of hearings on the issue at City Hall.

Now, a San Francisco jury has voted overwhelmingly to acquit a cyclist who collided with a pedestrian last year, finding that the collision was clearly accidental and that the cyclist tried to avoid the victim who jaywalked to check the parking meter for her car and then abrupted reversed course and collided with the cyclist.

“The evidence in this case was clear: It was an accident, not a crime,” Deputy Public Defender Tammy Zhu said of her client, 20-year-old John Kewin, who faced up to a year in jail after the DA’s office charged him with reckless driving.

But the jury last week voted 11-1 to acquit Kewin, siding with witnesses who said he tried to avoid the collision over one witness (ironically, a cyclist) who testified that Kewin was riding too fast. So the DA’s office this week decided to drop the charges.

Public Defender’s Office spokesperson Tamara Barak Aparton told us charges should have never been filed in the case: “I don’t think it should have been, it was clearly an accident and not a crime.”

The DA’s Office has refused to file criminal charges against any of the four motorists who killed cyclists in San Francisco in the last year, even in cases where the drivers were making illegal turns across bike lanes and making no efforts to avoid the cyclists.

Does the District Attorney’s Office have a bias against bicyclists? We left messages with two different spokespeople from that office, and we’ll update this post with their replies if and when we hear back. 

Comments

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 1:32 pm

I didn't say jurors were biased, I said police and prosecutors were biased. This case shouldn't have been filed, as the jurors seemed to indicate. 

Posted by steven on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:07 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:13 pm

despite a complete lack of clear evidence which would lead to a conviction*. That actually is the false standard that this same troll probably has claimed justifies the lack of charges in the Le Moulac case, but the two when looked at side-by-side show an obvious bias against bicyclists.

As they say: "You've been served."

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

They prosecute the winnable cases knowing and expecting that they won't win them all.

Trying and failing in one case doesn't mean that the decision to prosecute was wrong. Juries are fickle and you never know for sure.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

to "prove a point" or to "make a statement" even though the history of such prosecution has no credible chance of succeeding; like prosecuting someone for domestic violence even though there was no contemporaneous police report and the supposed victim refused to cooperate with police.

In the case of Amelie Le Moullac, a truck driver made an illegal turn and killed her and was videotaped doing so.

My experience riding is that at least half of all drivers don't even know the right way to merge into a bike lane before making a turn, so the DA could have done much to "protect women" (and men) by bringing a case as the police felt was justified; even if, as you suppose, a conviction was unlikely.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:18 pm

assume bias whether it is there or not.

and BTW, I saw the amelie tape and it was totally inconclusive.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

I see far more cyclist busting through stoop signs and lights than I see cars doing that.

Just yesterday while driving I stopped at a red pedestrian light to allow a pedestrian to cross and four cyclists barreled through without stopping.

WTF?

Oh, and what license are you risking losing? Oh wait, none.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

Really? Maybe you're not paying attention then. Every day I see cars speeding down narrow streets, blowing through lights and stop signs, even driving down sidewalks. When cyclists do it, it's exasperating, when someone piloting 2 tons of glass and steel does it, it's deadly. The police need to control against the known, clear, and present danger, motorists in this city.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 5:51 pm

Everyday you see cars driving down sidewalks? Your whole argument just went plooey with that asinine comment.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:57 pm

Just yesterday, I just saw a car driving down the sidewalk a block away from my apartment on Dolores St.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:49 am

Rarely otherwise. Parked cars mean you cannot get back onto the street

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:07 am

...if it were a car driver who "tried to avoid the victim who jaywalked to check the parking meter for her car and then abruptly reversed course and collided with the driver's car".

Would charges have been brought?

The idea is laughable. They didn't even bring charges against a driver who ran over an old man with a cane, walking across a crosswalk, with the signal-- and which was caught on video.

Now, I'm in favor of prosecuting people who hit pedestrians. But as it is, the record of who gets prosecuted and who doesn't is very lopsided.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

excuse me, guest, but have you ever had to defend yourself in a court of law? if not you don't know what this person suffered. and the charges should never have been brought in the first place. a jaywalker who steps in front of a moving vehicle is clearly at fault.

Posted by Devon on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 10:59 am

The jury acquitted the cyclist, which means the prosecutor was wrong in charging him. Whereas that same prosecutor refused to charge someone for killing a cyclist. That's the double standard the article talks about.

Posted by Mario Tanev on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

never have brought the case, because another jury might have convicted.

And it certainly doesn't mean that the defendant is not guilty.

Our system is rigged to allow many many guilty parties to get away with it, because we deem that to be better than one innocent man being convicted.

The bias is the other way. You need near certainty and unambiguity to win a criminal case. That is why OJ got off but lost at the civil trial.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:27 pm

Then the case was a real turd, presuming there is plenty of bias against cyclists in the silent majority of the general populace.

Of course, if there is NOT bias against cyclists in the general populace, then the whole argument against bike lanes falls apart.

Pick your poison.

Posted by If you lose a case against a cyclist on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:38 am

disregard for our traffic laws. So it is possible that a jury would be more biased than the DA, who will generally only prosecute if they think there is a reasonable probability that they will prevail

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:53 am

The jury slapped down the DA and SFPD on this and slapped them down hard.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:22 am

They either find the case is proven or not proven. Given the burden of proof required in criminal cases, many many guilty defendants walk, like with OJ.

That doesn't mean the DA was wrong to bring the case, because nobody scores 100%.

Anyway, blame yourself because the DA position is elected

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:37 am

Gascon and the SFPD were pwned by the jury.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:53 am

The DA is elected.

So you "pwned" yourself, and at your own expense.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 11:00 am

The SFPD has discretion in what cases it brings to the DA and the DA has discretion in what cases it charges. In this case the SFPD was wrong for bringing the case and the DA was wrong for charging it.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 7:23 pm

Why are there multiple examples of comments referring to OJ in their arguments against this piece? The DA should not have brought the case simply because they haven't brought equivalent cases when motorists have killed cyclists and pedestrians.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:51 am

DA should not bring a case to trial that they might not win.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:08 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 2:42 pm

Trained Russian bears on bikes wouldn't enjoy quite such protections, but even in their case, anyone who carelessly killed them by making an illegal turn with a motor vehicle would be liable for punishment under animal cruelty law. Hope this helps.

(By-the-way, I bought my first tank of gasoline in about four months yesterday. Funny how you can get used to not having a car.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

Because you are a fifty-something unemployed white male desperately clinging to his rent-controlled shithole with no girlfriend, wife, children, family or friends.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:45 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:45 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 5:52 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 24, 2014 @ 6:09 am

11-1 isn't an acquittal. It's a hung jury.

Posted by The Commish on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:46 pm

and reveals an object worthy of pity not scorn.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 3:59 pm
Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

He might be a troll, but that doesn't mean he's wrong you bombastic, self-important twit. You've referred to yourself in the third-person multiple times. Who the hell does that? When someone like Kanye West does it, at least he's actually accomplished something. Doesn't make him any less of an egomaniacal jerk but at least he can reference the amount of records he sold. When someone like you does it, well... that's just sad and pathetic.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 4:52 pm
No

No. Gascon is just not that smart.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

IT's a great time to sell your bike and start SKATEBOARDING! not at all dangerous. unless you're a wimp! lol

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 4:45 pm

Gascon ain't all bad. He brought charges against Mike Petrillis for the photo of Weiner at the urinal.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

Good to see San Franciscans slap down the SFPD and DA on this.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 5:46 pm

in the local jurist (sic) milieu

evict Ed Lee, & evict the entire CC of SF D.A.'s office, all appointees before you wake one day in the near future in a proto fascists utopia.

It has been all down hill in the CC of S.F. since the night of the 2010 election and Ed Lee's pathetic (non majority) RCV (12 ballots!) election victory.

Posted by GuestagainstDAGeorgeGascon on Jun. 20, 2014 @ 5:54 pm

left turn at a signal-controlled intersection. He'd stopped at his red signal and then proceed to turn right coming straight at me. I was looking straight at him so I braked hard to keep from going under his wheels and shouted irately at him which elicited an apology.

Was it the need for prescription glasses on his part or inattention? Or was it simply the driver's inate expression of power which comes to some people when they sense that mass differential between their vehicle and another's means they really don't need to share the road fairly?

I pause to think again of the recent story of the fellow who supposedly ran a stop sign in the vicinity of Broadway and Gough and was described as "running into" a driver making a left turn into a driveway. Is it possible that the bicyclist did not run the sign any more than does your average San Francisco driver--including cops of course!--and yet he got blamed for his own injury simply because of the bias against bicyclists?

My experience yesterday says it is a decided possibility.

Anyhow, it is realities such as this which makes my own sometimes bold disregard of traffic signals seem completely legal under what is perhaps my imprecise understanding of "perfect necessity" legal doctrine.

After all, why should I wait at a red arrow when there are no cars* around only to proceed later when a driver may be present and quite liable to run me over as I pass in front of them? ... meanwhile having waited in a state of nervousness of being run down from behind?

This is why the Idaho Stop law makes perfect sense.

*also, of course, must look out for pedestrians and other bicyclists.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:17 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 9:39 am

Because that just gives license to violent lawbreakers.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:20 am

The driver risks getting a scratch in his paintwork and lilli risks oblivion.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:35 am

So you believe that law breakers should be coddled if they are stronger than you? Obviously the poster managed to survive.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:53 am

It is your job to get out of the way of something much bigger than you rather die making a futile point that nobody gives a crap about anyway

Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:59 am

It is the job of the motorized vehicle to violate the law with impunity.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 11:13 am

but if my attention had been momentarily distracted by some imperfections in the road surface I might have not spotted his move in time; perhaps only slowing enough to dent-in the side of his minivan and have the SFPD to brand me as reckless and self-destructive.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:40 am
Posted by Guest on Jun. 23, 2014 @ 10:46 am

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