DETECTIVE IN SAN FRANCISCO ARRESTS PUBLIC DEFENDER AT THE COURTHOUSE WHEN SHE OBJECTS TO HER CLIENT BEING QUESTIONED AND PHOTOGRAHED WITHOUT HER CONSENT
A Deputy Public Defender was arrested in San Francisco at the courthouse because she objected to the detective taking pictures of her client. A police investigator, accompanied by several other uniformed officers, had approached Deputy Public Defender Jami Tillotson’s client to take pictures of him and possibly question him about an unrelated criminal case. When Tillotson told the detective, identified as Inspector Brian Stansbury, that “we’re OK here. We don’t need any pictures taken, thank you”, he threatened to place her under arrest for resisting arrest. Tillotson replied “please do” and he arrested her and she was taken to a holding area for about an hour. In the video that was taken by bystanders, Tillotson can be seen very politely explaining that she did not want the detective to take her client’s photo or talk with him.
Public Defender Jeff Jeff Adachi, claimed the arrest was unlawful and that Stansbury had no right to question the client without the lawyer’s consent; Tillotson was inside another courtroom when colleagues alerted her to the fact that the police were trying to photograph and question her client in the hallway.
Tillotson was later released under conditions which suggested that there was insufficient evidence to charge her with a crime.
COMMENT: As a threshold matter, police officials should avoid confrontations like this one. The incident took place at the courthouse at a time when stress levels might be expected to be running high; lawyers are busy and defendants are nervous. The detective could easily have contacted Ms. Tillotson through normal channels to discuss the issue of taking photos, but instead ambushed the defendant in this hectic arena. The public defender was reacting, as most do, with her client’s best interests in mind and she was responding quickly to a scene she was alerted to while in another courtroom; the sight of several police officers surrounding her client had to be a startling event. This matter does not turn on whether her representation of the client in an unrelated matter, extends the constitutional privileges attached there, to the case the detective was interested in; it probably doesn’t. Rather, it is a question of professionalism and courtesy.