by Katy St. Clair
San Francisco – A man with a neurological disorder who was approached and then forcibly pushed to the ground by a police officer while he attempted to board a paratransit van was acquitted of battery and resisting arrest on Wednesday, Public Defender Manohar Raju has announced.
Marvin Cosby, 60, was looking at a year in county jail had he been convicted. The jury quickly came to a unanimous “not guilty” decision, and all the jurors told the attorneys that they were moved by Mr. Cosby’s experience.
“What happened to Mr. Cosby was an outrage and a deep injustice,” said Semuteh Freeman, his public defender. “I felt as if I was defending Mr. Cosby’s humanity and dignity, given the charges in this case and the blatant use of excessive force by the police officers.”
The case hinged around an incident that happened on Feb. 20 in SOMA. Mr. Cosby was waiting to board a paratransit bus so that he could get to his appointment with a neurologist. For reasons that weren’t made entirely clear in the trial, he was barred from getting on the van after he was approached by two police officers. He was then arrested and spent a week in jail.
The jury learned that the officers never notified Mr. Cosby that he was under arrest as they cuffed him, nor did they explain to him why he was being arrested. They told the jury that he seemed intoxicated, though Mr. Cosby’s neurologist testified that his ailment causes him to have slurred speech and repeated, involuntary movements that make him unsteady.
The jury viewed the officer’s body-worn cameras that showed Mr. Cosby repeatedly telling the officers that he had an appointment and even showing them his appointment slip. The jury saw officer Justin Vian-Reagan arresting Mr. Cosby and slamming him down onto the pavement and handcuffing him.
“I felt as if I was defending Mr. Cosby’s humanity and dignity, given the charges in this case and the blatant use of excessive force by the police officers.” – Semuteh Freeman
Mr. Cosby was ultimately charged with resisting arrest and committing battery upon a police officer. He was never charged with public intoxication or trespassing on the bus.
“It cannot be that an elderly, disabled man attempting to take Paratransit to a doctor’s appointment can end up being thrown to the ground by police and arrested for resisting,” said Freeman.
The jury learned that Vian-Reagan had only been on the force for eight days and has since left the SFPD after an integrity write-up and less than a month on the force.
Deputy Public Defender Freeman asked the jury to consider how the most powerless people in society fare in the halls of justice – the black, the poor, the disabled.
After the not guilty verdict was read, many jurors told the attorneys that they didn’t understand why this case ended up in trial in the first place. “The members of the jury were clear: This was an unlawful arrest and the police used unreasonable force.”
“We public defenders are here for the Marvin Cosbys of the world,” said Raju. “We speak for them in court when they cannot afford an attorney, ensuring that they get the same consideration and their constitutional right to a fair trial.
“I’m especially proud of Ms. Freeman, who deftly exposed the truth of this case in the courtroom. We are gratified and thank the jury that Mr. Cosby’s dignity has been restored and that he can get on with his life.”
Katy St. Clair, public information officer for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, can be reached at Katy.StClair@sfgov.org.