S.F. Cops Arrest Public Defender for Publicly Defending

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The officer's explanation to the lawyer at the time was that if she didn't stop objecting to what he wanted to do, "I will arrest you for resisting arrest." That either made sense to him or he just didn't care. That's bad either way.

Jami Tillotson is a public defender in San Francisco, and was with a client who was appearing at the courthouse for a misdemeanor theft charge. After the appearance, her client and another man were apparently stopped in the hallway by five police officers, led by Sgt. Brian Stansbury (he's the one in the suit). Tillotson noticed this and, not surprisingly, came over to find out what was going on.

'Cause that's what we do, you know. If we represent someone and notice something that might affect their legal rights—like, let's say, if they have been stopped by police officers and we happen to be in the area—we like to find out what is going on. It's actually kind of our job. We might even object, if something's objectionable. Just FYI.

Anyway, this is what happened next: 


The facts aren't 100% clear, but here's a summary based on the reports and video. Police claim these two guys are "persons of interest" in another crime. The sergeant says he just wants to take their pictures and then they'll be "free to go." Tillotson says no thanks, and that's when he states that "if you continue to do this [object], I will arrest you for resisting arrest." She says, "please do," and he does. He then takes pictures of the men as Tillotson is led away in handcuffs, and she spent the next hour cuffed to a wall in a holding cell.

Now, police are entitled to take pictures of someone in public if they want to—you know, just like citizens are entitled to take pictures of police in public, whether police honor that or not. Here the pictures were apparently intended for use in a lineup, which would explain why he doesn't just take the pictures. He wants them to pose.

That I don't think he's entitled to any more than an officer is entitled to require you to answer questions as you walk by him on the street. Police need at least "reasonable articulable suspicion" to stop you even briefly, and I think that has to be based on the immediate circumstances, or else once you are a "person of interest" they could stop you at will. If I'm right about that, then these guys had no obligation to cooperate in any way.

Which in turn would mean Tillotson was right to object. Her client may have been standing still, but it wasn't voluntary. That's why the sergeant says that once he gets his pictures, they'll be "free to go." So they were obviously being detained and interrogated in some sense (I'd have at least assumed the officers were asking questions as well as taking photos.) I'm not a criminal-defense attorney, but if I were I'd sure as hell try to put a stop to that. And if I were a client I'd probably fire my attorney if she didn't.

Even if Tillotson had been wrong, arresting her for this is ridiculous. She's not actually obstructing anything, let alone "resisting arrest." And holding her for an hour after the pictures were taken is nothing but punishment for objecting. But I don't think she was wrong. The cops could get their pictures if they want to, or require a lineup, I assume. They just have to get a warrant. Remember those?

According to this report, SFPD is claiming that "lawyers are only allowed to counsel a suspect when they are being formally interrogated for a crime," and I hope that's not an accurate summary of the claim because wow, it's complete bullshit.

Speaking of criminal-defense attorneys, here are better analyses from people who actually are that: