Community Update from San Francisco
Public Defender Mano Raju

DECEMBER 2020
SF Public Defenders march through the Mission District for George Floyd and Black Lives Matter on June 3, 2020.
Dear Community,

I hope this newsletter finds you safe and healthy.

2020 has been an incredibly difficult year with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, as well as a national reckoning with racism and police brutality. As I reflect back, I feel a lot of sadness and anger about how our clients and community members have suffered. At the same time, I am proud of the work our office has done to fight for our clients and support the communities we serve. As I mentioned in a recent podcast, I am optimistic about our growing movement for justice and racial equality.

We put together this newsletter to give you all a better sense of what the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has been working on since we last put out a newsletter in August. As always, please let us know if you have any questions, concerns, or comments to share on this work. 

In community and solidarity, 
Mano Raju
San Francisco Public Defender

Twitter: @ManoRajuPD @sfdefender
Facebook: @Mano Raju @San Francisco Public Defender’s Office                                Instagram: @ManoRajuPD @sfpublicdefender 

Fighting for People's Health and Freedom in the Time of COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis, coupled with the national Black Lives Matter movement, has shined a light on just how important it is for us to be looking at all of our systems through a public health lens as well as a racial justice lens. We have seen that COVID-19 has spread most rapidly in detention settings, and there is simply no way for people to socially-distance in overcrowded jails, prisons, and immigrant detention centers. We continue to fight for their freedom each day.  
San Francisco County Jails
After many years of advocating alongside the No New Jails Coalition, community leaders, and other city officials to close the unsafe and decrepit jail at 850 Bryant, it was officially shut down on September 5th. Yet, the struggle to protect people in jail from COVID-19 goes on, as the director of Jail Health recently called for the release of more people. We continue to work on all fronts to win pretrial release for our clients, secure early release for the medically-vulnerable or those nearing the end of a jail sentence, and to restore the emergency zero bail order to reduce the jail population and keep it down. 
California Prisons 
Our post-conviction release team continues to assist people in California prisons, including San Quentin which suffered a severe COVID-19 outbreak and 28 deaths. In October, the First District Court of Appeal ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce San Quentin’s population by 50% due to conditions the court described as “morally indefensible" and “constitutionally untenable.”
Danielle Harris, Managing Attorney of our Integrity Unit, is co-counsel in a case representing over 300 petitioners from San Quentin seeking release by petition for writ of habeas corpus. She appeared on Al Jazeera to discuss why the California prison system (CDCR) can and should urgently release (not transfer) people from these dangerous conditions now before it’s too late. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is raging through the prison system state-wide with over 5,600 active cases and 97 deaths. While California has a 3.5% COVID-19 infection rate, the prison system’s rate is more than 8 times higher, at over 26%.  
Danielle Harris appeared on Al Jazeera to discuss the dire need for releases from California prisons.
ICE Detention
Our Immigration Defense Unit continues to make great strides to protect people in deportation proceedings. We have helped hundreds of families reunite in the past eight months, despite the volatile Trump-era immigration courts. The federal court orders we’ve won represent some of the strongest protections for detained immigrants in the entire country. We are deeply grateful to our partners at the ACLU of Northern & Southern California, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the SF Bay Area, Lakin & Wille LLP, and Cooley LLP.
Closing Juvenile Hall
The Managing Attorney of our Juvenile Defense Unit, Patti Lee, is chair of the critical Close Juvenile Hall Work Group to close the facility by December 2021. This will make San Francisco the first city in the nation to close our juvenile detention center and create a small home-like alternative. Our defenders continue to practice holistic representation and advocate for alternatives to incarcerating our youth, resulting in the number of detained youth being consistently below 20 in the 150-bed facility.

Police Accountability and Systemic Change 

Transparent policing builds trust and roots out corruption, bias, and abuse. It is critical for the community to have the tools and information to advocate for meaningful changes to policing, to protect individual rights, and to enhance public safety.

Public Defender CopWatch SF Database
The Public Defender CopWatch SF database went live on November 18th. Designed by our Integrity Unit, it’s an easily-searchable collection of publicly available documents and news stories about local police and sheriffs which we hope can be a replicable model for statewide transparency. This grew from our core work defending clients whose freedom often depends on police witness credibility. We’ll continue to add to the database as more records become available and continue to support and build legislative efforts to expand and accelerate the release of records that the public and the law demand.
If you see something missing from the database, or need help filing a complaint against an officer, you can reach out to our Integrity team.
Providing Training to the Community - Police Commission 101

Our Integrity Unit hosted a virtual training this October for community advocates interested in learning more about the pressing issues facing the San Francisco Police Commission and our work to bring accountability and transparency to the SFPD. Over 40 community members participated, including those who work in the areas of mental health and homelessness.  Please let us know if you would be interested in participating in a similar training in the future.
Strengthening Body Worn Camera Policies 
In October, the Police Commission adopted an important change to SFPD policy - forbidding officers from viewing their own or another officer’s Body Worn Camera footage prior to giving a statement in cases of police shootings and in-custody deaths. The goal is to ensure more integrity in these investigations. Our office has been urging this important change for years, with efforts led by Rebecca Young, who is actively engaged in revising the SFPD’s policies in her role on the SF Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Task Force.
Advocating for Transparency in POA Negotiations
The pace of police reform in San Francisco has been frustratingly slow. One major barrier has been the police union’s secretive and drawn-out meet-and-confer process, which has delayed many policy changes, including how police use body-worn cameras and how the department regulates its officers’ use-of-force.  That’s why I am proud to partner with Supervisor Ronen on drafting legislation that would bring transparency to the SF Police Officer Association’s negotiations with the City. I believe it can bring the transparency needed to help speed up reform, and also increase public trust. 

Demanding Accountability to Protect Clients

Holding the Medical Examiner Accountable
The San Francisco Office of the Medical Examiner has come under scrutiny once again since one of its long-time lab analysts was arrested in Utah with an evidence bag of methamphetamine. Our office has long voiced concern that the OCME is poorly managed and biased, which has caused lowered standards, an inability to attract and maintain highly qualified staff, and intolerable delays. This in turn has impacted justice for our clients and their families, victims and their families, and justice at large. I recently called for the removal of its Chief Medical Examiner and will continue to push for a full investigation and overhaul of the office so that our City can have the independent, top-notch service it deserves.
Fighting Against the City Attorney’s Tenderloin Drug Injunctions
We all agree that drug use in the Tenderloin is a deadly public health issue that negatively affects residents, including many of our clients and their families. However, the City Attorney’s civil injunctions against 28 individuals is another chapter in the war on drugs that has simply failed to impact drug use or sales. We know from decades of experience that low-level sellers, some of whom are underage and victims of human trafficking, will quickly be replaced with other sellers, making the market more dangerous. My office will continue to advocate that the City should use resources to provide meaningful alternatives to street level sellers and focus on getting at the source of the drug trade, which will continue to produce drugs so long as the demand exists.
Public Defender Appointed to Help Implement Mental Health SF
Kara Chien, the Managing Attorney of our Mental Health Unit, was appointed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera to serve on the Mental Health SF Implementation Workgroup to help provide San Franciscans with much-improved access to 24/7 behavioral health services. Kara - who has worked at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office for 30 years, and leads a team of defenders who advocate for clients with chronic and severe mental illness in civil and criminal court - will bring her extensive experience and compassion as an advocate for people’s rights and access to dignified care.

Impact of Legislation and Election Results on Criminal Justice Reform

Statewide Implications
My office advocated heavily in the state legislature for the kind of bold legislation needed to repair and reimagine the justice system and redefine public safety. Several of the bills I supported have been signed into law. Together with the state’s election results, they will significantly impact the lives of justice-involved people and their families. We’ll continue our push to increase accountability for law enforcement and decrease reliance on incarceration as a public safety tool.
Local Implications
I am very glad that San Franciscans largely supported Proposition D to establish formal oversight of our Sheriff’s department, a proposition that I helped draft. I was also glad to see the passage of Proposition E which removes an outdated mandatory staffing minimum of police officers and sends the SFPD through the annual budget process that all city departments must go through to justify and secure staffing.

Public Defenders in the Community

Young Defenders - Know Your Rights
Our Young Defenders internship program, whose inaugural group of high school students began working with our office in August, designed and hosted two virtual “Know Your Rights” events for the community. We are proud of this next generation of leaders for social justice and public safety, and grateful to our program partners at Opportunities for All, the Human Rights Commission, and Teachers for Social Justice.
Clean Slate

Our “Clean Slate” team - which assists folks with cleaning up their criminal records - had a successful outreach in the Bayview where we took in new applicants, answered lots of questions, and distributed all the literature on hand. It is our goal to help our clients and others in the community who may have past arrests or convictions holding them back from accessing housing, jobs, and other opportunities. We made important connections with several community advocates who are interested in more events for our mutual clients, and we plan to keep showing up for the community! You can contact our Clean Slate team and access more information on our website: SFPublicDefender.org.  

In these times of change and challenge, we are all in this together. Please stay safe!


All of us at the San Francisco Public Defender's Office wish you a healthy holiday season and a resilient new year!

 As always, if you need to reach our office for any reason, call our front desk at 415-553-1671 or contact us through our website - SFPublicDefender.org
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