by #FreeKevinEpps Committee
As we prepare to pack the courtroom for another court hearing on Thursday, Sept. 26, 9 a.m., in Department 20 at 850 Bryant, we want the community to know about what we consider serious misconduct by a prosecutor at the last hearing. Kevin explains:
“This Thursday, Sept. 26, at 9 a.m. in Department 20, 850 Bryant St., San Francisco, will be first day back in court since I was threatened and bullied by District Attorney Michael Swart. I really need the community support to send a clear message that his biased, vindictive, unprofessional actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Please join us on Thursday to send a message to City Hall that a united community says, “Free Kevin Epps! We need him back behind his camera telling our stories!”
This is the letter we sent on Sept. 9 to District Attorney George Gascón:
Dear District Attorney Gascón,
We are writing to inform you of an incident on September 3rd at The Hall of Justice in Department 20 and Department 11 that involved Managing Assistant District Attorney John Michael Swart, Kevin Epps and Mark Vermeulen, defense attorney for Mr. Epps.
After a hearing for Mr. Epps on September 3rd in Department 20 before Judge Teresa Cafesse at The Hall of Justice in San Francisco, Mr. Swart acted in an aggressive and threatening manner toward Mr. Epps and Mr. Vermeulen.
As Mr. Epps and Mr. Swart were both exiting the courtroom, Mr. Epps and Mr. Swart came into close proximity and after they looked at one another, Mr. Swart took an aggressive stance toward Mr. Epps and yelled in his face, “Do not look at me!” Mr. Epps was immediately taken aback by Mr. Swart’s threatening demeanor. Mr. Swart proceeded to moved closer to Mr. Epps and yelled, “I said, do not look at me!”
Mr. Epps did not verbally respond to Mr. Swart.
Mr. Vermeulen immediately confronted Mr. Swart and indicated that he did not appreciate Mr. Swart intimidating his client. Mr. Swart escalated the situation by responding with profanities, pointed his finger in Mr. Vermeulen’s face and said several times as Mr. Vermeulen was attempting to exit the courtroom, “You wanna go right now?!”
Several Sheriff Deputies came alongside the two men. The deputies also motioned toward a stunned Mr. Epps to remain in the courtroom as Mr. Swart and Mr. Vermeulen made their way into the hallway and the courtroom doors closed.
After a few minutes, a Sheriff Deputy indicated to Mr. Epps that it was fine for him to leave the courtroom.
Mr. Epps, Mr. Vermeulen and two other friends of Mr. Epps. proceeded to Department 11. Mr. Epps and his friends were seated in the back of the courtroom. Mr. Epps was visibly shaken by Mr. Swart’s behavior in Department 20 as he awaited a second hearing with Mr. Vermeulen and presumably with Mr. Swart.
While Mr. Vermeulen was standing and waiting in the Department 11 courtroom for Mr. Epps’ case to be called, Mr. Swart entered the courtroom to specifically address Mr. Vermeulen. Mr. Swart approached Mr. Vermeulen and angrily told him to be sure to tell his client (Mr. Epps) not to look at him again. Mr. Swart loudly suggested that Mr. Vermeulen “step outside” of the court to further discuss the matter. Mr. Vermeulen did not agree to do so. Before exiting the courtroom, Mr. Swart continued to raise his voice and yelled for Mr. Vermeulen to have Mr. Epps “stay out of my face!”
As an officer of the court and a Managing Attorney in the District Attorney’s office, both of Mr. Swart’s outbursts toward Mr. Epps and Mr. Vermeulen were uncalled for and unprofessional. His actions toward Mr. Epps, the defendant in the case that Mr. Swart is now prosecuting, were also very intimidating due to his position of power over Mr. Epps. Mr. Epps felt threatened by Mr. Swart as he feared that Mr. Swart was going to physically assault him based upon his body language and tone of voice. Mr. Epps does not feel physically safe around Mr. Swart. To quote Mr. Epps, “I seriously thought I was going to be physically battered by Mr. Swart, and for a split second my life and my freedom flashed before my eyes.”
Should Mr. Swart be permitted to continue to represent The People with respect to Mr. Epps after he verbally assaulted both Mr. Epps and Mr. Vermuelen before and after two court hearings within minutes of one another? As a prosecutor, Mr. Swart acted unethically toward Mr. Epps.
Having recently been released from custody on bail, Mr. Epps was already feeling very intimidated around Mr. Swart. Mr. Swart sent and made hostile texts and calls to Mr. Vermeulen about Mr. Epps falsely missing a court appearance on August 26, 2019 in
Department 11 to the effect that Mr. Epps’ bail status could have been in jeopardy due to a reported failure to appear. Mr. Epps in fact did appear in court with Mr. Vermeulen earlier on that date prior to Mr. Swart’s accusations that Mr. Epps had missed his appearance. These intimidating actions by Mr. Swart caused Mr. Epps distress, worry and confusion as to whether or not he had confused any details of his court appearance for that day.
If Mr. Swart is allowed to continue to act this way toward Mr. Epps in court as a Managing Attorney in your office without impunity, what will stop him from continuing to intimidate him and other defendants or opposing counsel in the future?
Is it fair to Mr. Epps to have to be concerned that if he so much as looks at Mr. Swart he will be yelled at and/or threatened at any moment?
Do Mr. Swart’s actions exhibit those of a prosecutor who will act to insure that Mr. Epps receives a fair trial going forward?
Based upon Mr. Swart’s behavior, we respectfully request that you remove Mr. Swart from representing The People versus Mr. Epps.