Community Update from San Francisco
Public Defender Mano Raju
MAY 2021
Youth artist Damen (MIND) Harrell created this original artwork to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. We are #100YrDefenderStrong!
Dear Community,

I hope this finds you well. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.  While we are proud of all that we have accomplished in the last century, we are excited for opportunities to grow and to further develop the field of public defense. Below are some of the highlights of our recent work.

Even as the County starts to open up from the pandemic, people continue to languish in jails and prisons, many awaiting trial well past their last date. We continue our fight for them.

In Solidarity,

Mano Raju
Public Defenders Providing Expanded Clean Slate Services
This year we received grants from the Crankstart Foundation and the Kelson Foundation to expand our Clean Slate program capacity by 50%. A criminal record, even an arrest that never led to charges or a conviction, can shut people out of jobs, housing, and education. Our Clean Slate team helps seal arrest records, lower certain felony convictions to misdemeanors, and complete Certificates of Rehabilitation. We also help with criminal vacatures for immigration purposes and have been able to expunge decades-old drug offenses that can otherwise lead to deportation.

To learn more about how our Clean Slate team can help you or someone you know with their criminal record, visit our website and contact our team.

Click on the image above to hear more of Mr. Busby's story.

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

The jail continues to be 25% over the capacity that health officials have deemed safe for COVID-19 purposes. The conditions for the past year have been horrendous with people under lockdown for 23 hours a day, no visits, no time outdoors, and no classes.  Over 100 people are sitting in jail awaiting trial for weeks or months beyond the last day that they must be brought to trial under law. By contrast, neighboring counties have safely conducted up to 10 times as many jury trials throughout the pandemic than San Francisco. Our office has filed writs to the Court of Appeal to seek relief.  My Op-Ed urging the SF Superior Court to open more trial courtrooms now can be found here.

Devastating Situation at San Quentin with COVID-19

We, along with our co-counsel, are representing over 300 petitioners against San Quentin State Prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for violation of their Eighth Amendment rights. Nearly a year after the disastrous transfer of COVID-19-infected persons from the California Institution for Men - which was then the state prison with the highest COVID-19 rate in California - to San Quentin, the case against San Quentin and CDCR for the massive COVID-19 outbreak which resulted in 29 deaths is being heard in Marin County Superior Court.

Suing ICE for Human Rights Violations

Through our ongoing joint class action suit against ICE, we have been able to help with the release of hundreds of people from the dangerous conditions at two immigration detention centers in California since the start of the pandemic -- 323 people from Mesa Verde, the GEO Group operated facility in Bakersfield, and 159 people from the Yuba County Jail.  Mediation in that case continues.

Juan Jose, moments after his release from ICE Detention, where he was met by his many supporters, including Deputy Public Defender Kelly Wells. Photo by Itzel Calvo.
We are guided and inspired by the courage of our clients in the face of cruel and inhumane immigration incarceration. After a three-year battle supported by dozens of community organizations, 21-year-old Juan Jose, was finally released from ICE detention in Yuba County.  While in ICE custody in Yuba, Juan Jose led six hunger strikes to protest the treatment and conditions there.  When Juan Jose contracted COVID, he was held in a filthy solitary confinement cell for 12 days, but survived. He has since been released and we continue to fight his immigration case. 

Working to Close Juvenile Hall

The Close Juvenile Hall working group, chaired by Patti Lee, longtime Managing Attorney of our Juvenile Defense Unit, has been convening meetings throughout the pandemic to plan for the closure of juvenile hall. We are moving toward our December 31, 2021, deadline to close juvenile hall.

Trial Wins and Client Advocacy

I am very proud of our defense teams for successfully conducting a number of trials under the strain of pandemic conditions which limited our ability to meet with our clients in custody and in court. Despite these challenges, we did all we could to make justice happen in the courtroom.

Police Accountability
Our Integrity Unit continues to engage with the San Francisco Police Commission, which oversees the SFPD. We recently shared findings of our research which revealed that in the past five years more than two dozen SFPD officers have quit to avoid discipline and permanent marks on their record.
Mission Local reported on the findings our Integrity Unit shared with the San Francisco Police Commission about how many officers quit to avoid discipline and marks on their professional records.
Our CopMonitor database, which we launched last year, is a collection of records about local police, sheriffs, and other government actors that are of interest to the public, including victims’ families, activists, civil rights advocates, criminal defense attorneys, public officials, and journalists.
I was honored to receive the James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society for Professional Journalists of Northern California in recognition of our efforts.  Thanks to the tremendous work of Brian Cox, Zac Dillon, and Danielle Harris. We hope this database can be a model for nationwide transparency.

Please contact us if you need help filing a complaint against an SFPD officer or an SF Sheriff’s deputy.

Click here to learn about and access our database of publicly available records on local officers.
Our office pushed to demand changes to the SF Police Department’s policies on how and when police can detain and search people. Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young -- who, along with Julie Traun of the SF Bar Association, was the driving force behind pushing SFPD to follow the law on search and seizure -- was quoted in Mission Local. We continue to demand an end to consent searches, “quality of car” stops, and pretextual stops based on mundane infractions.
Mission Local reported on a new policy Public Defenders pushed for to curb SFPD's illegal detentions, searches, and seizures.
- The Adachi Project -
Sharing the Stories of Our Clients and the Challenges They Face through Art and Film
In January, we officially launched The Adachi Project  -- a first-of-its-kind partnership with Even/Odd and Compound that illuminates stories and perspectives about the U.S. criminal legal system through documentary film, video, and photojournalism. The Project is inspired by late Public Defender and filmmaker, Jeff Adachi, with the goal of better understanding the human impact of the U.S. criminal legal system on our communities, and to influence our vision for a different world.
The San Francisco Chronicle featured The Adachi Project in January.
In February, we released our first documentary short “One Eleven Taylor (During a Pandemic)” which exposes the dangerous pandemic conditions in April-May 2020 at the halfway house at 111 Taylor Street in the Tenderloin District, which is run by the multi-billion dollar private prison corporation, GEO Group. The film reveals how this for-profit company -- which has a legacy of prioritizing profits over people -- is exposing residents to COVID-19 and putting them in the impossible position: having to choose to risk their lives by staying or risk parole violations that could send them back to prison.

The release of our film coincided with a separate COVID outbreak at 111 Taylor that was exposed by Keith Malik Washington, the new Editor of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, who is now fighting back against the retaliation he faced by the GEO Group and the Federal Bureau of Prisons for blowing the whistle on the conditions at the halfway house.  

In April 2021, the Adachi Project presented “One Eleven Taylor (During a Pandemic)” at the Commonwealth Club with hosts Michelle Meow and John Zipperer.
Our second film, “Forty-Four Years Later” follows our client, Paul Redd, on his first day of freedom after 44 years in prison. Paul Redd was convicted at age 19 based on the testimony of a single co-defendant who was given a plea deal that allowed him to serve no time in exchange for his testimony. His trial lasted only three days from jury selection to conviction. He spent 30 of the next 44 years in solitary confinement -- becoming the basis of a landmark class action suit and hunger strike that changed the use of solitary confinement in California. While incarcerated, Paul became a beloved hospice worker and anti-violence facilitator. Following changes in California law, our office was able to successfully assist with his petition for resentencing, which the court granted, and he walked free last May. 

This week, we released our third film  - “From Inside” - a documentary short about the psychological impact of being caught in the county jail system during the pandemic. It features raw, candid interviews between our public defenders and their clients about the isolating fear and anxiety of being incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Framed by disorienting graphics, fractured visual fields, and the virtual reality of video-conferencing, “From Inside” offers a vivid mindscape of the unsettling reality faced by people locked inside. Despite our efforts which have helped reduce the jail population during the ongoing pandemic, SF County Jails remain over capacity. People are subject to significant court delays on 23-hour lockdown with no in-person family visits and no classes.  
Visit to view the films and editorials, and to learn more about the project.
The Adachi Project's inaugural body of work DEFENDER-Vol.00 can be found at Follow the project on Instagram @wearedefender.
California Supreme Court’s Decision in our Bail Case 
A case that started in our office in 2018 has resulted in a decision from the California Supreme Court. Kenneth Humphrey, who was accused of stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne from his neighbor, initially had his bail set at $600K, then lowered to $350K -- both astronomical amounts for the retiree. Our office partnered with Civil Rights Corps to appeal the bail decision denying him his pretrial liberty. Mr. Humphrey prevailed on the appeal and was released pretrial. Since his release, he has become a prominent figure in the community, mentoring and helping others ensnared in the system. In March 2021, the California Supreme Court affirmed that people like our client Kenneth Humphrey, who bravely fought for his pretrial freedom, can no longer be locked up in jail simply for being poor and when they pose no threat to public safety.
Deputy Public Defender Anita Nahba and Kenneth Humphrey watched arguments in his case in the California Supreme Court.
Advocating for Systemic Change
Advocating for an End to Poverty Tows

As part of the Coalition to End Poverty Tows in SF, together with community advocates from Glide, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and the Coalition on Homelessness, we urged the SFMTA to permanently end “poverty tows” — the towing of vehicles parked for more than 72 hours, 6 months past expiration of registration, or 5 unpaid citations. This is a practice that targets low income and unhoused people, including many of the people we represent. Our clients depend on their vehicles for survival and cannot afford to bail out their car from the impound.

We are disappointed that, despite the Coalition's opposition, the SFMTA Board decided to resume poverty tows on May 17th. We will continue to advocate for an end to poverty tows
Educating State Legislators on the Role of Public Defenders Throughout the State 

My office teamed up with Public Defender Offices across California and held a webinar for state lawmakers for them to learn about the critical need for state funding of public defenders to increase the capacity to implement new laws aimed at reducing incarceration and its consequences.
Click here to watch the webinar on YouTube.
Building a National Coalition of Public Defenders Fighting for Immigrant Rights 

Our Immigration Defense Unit helped build a national coalition of Public Defenders for Immigration Justice who proposed a 10-point plan to the Biden Administration on the most critical areas of immigration reform that are needed to protect our clients and their families. The coalition continues to organize and speak out on national legislation, urging the government to stop criminalizing immigrants. 

Click on the Ten-Point Plan to watch our national press conference on YouTube.
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 at

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