Study: Serious racial disparity in San Francisco in how people of color are charged early on in criminal cases

File photo of a jail cell.

 

SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A new study shows a serious racial disparity in San Francisco in how people of color are charged early on in criminal cases when compared to white people.

The new findings are spurring the launch of a new unit in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office to tackle booking bias.

Sixty-five-year-old Leslie Elliott was recently held in custody for 115 days on $300,000 bail. And she faced up to 27 years behind bars after her attorney, Deputy San Francisco Public Defender Elizabeth Camacho, says Elliott was unfairly charged with mayhem, battery causing serious bodily injury, and assault with a deadly weapon.

“The weapon was a cup of coffee, an injury that wasn’t permanent,” Camacho said.

Elliott says her coffee spilled on her arm and a white woman’s forearm on Sixth Street during an argument.

The woman later called police on Elliott, claiming she threw the coffee at her.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi says Elliott was overcharged.

“The disparity in charging that occurs by the police officer at the booking stages carries throughout the entire system, and it results in people of color, particularly African-Americans, being charged with more serious charges early on and more charges,” Adachi said.

Elliott was eventually acquitted of all but one misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

Still, the case took a toll on her and her perception of police.

But Adachi says this happens more often than you think.

A study by the Quattrone Center for Fair Administration of Justice concludes people of color in San Francisco receive more serious charges at the initial booking stage, compared to white people.

Adachi says a way to curb the disparity is by having the public defender’s office get involved earlier in the process. Typically, the public defender’s office doesn’t jump into a case until assigned at arraignment.

But now, the mayor’s office and Board of Supervisors will fund a new pre-trial release unit.

“And we will begin providing representation to clients at a much earlier stage,” Adachi said.

Adachi says the pre-trial release unit will launch on Oct. 1.

It’ll be made up of two deputy public defenders and one investigator.

“If you ask the court, or you ask the police department, they would adamantly deny that racism is a factor in these decisions, however, the results of this study I think are, or, make that undeniable,” Adachi said.

City funding for the first year of the pretrial release unit is about $335,000.

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