Adachi Questions Police Shooting of Tyrelle Taylor (introduction by Jeff Adachi)

POOR correspondent - Posted on 22 June 2010

Laure McElroy and Tiny/poverty and race scholars, Vincent Bevins/race, poverty and media justice intern;
Tuesday, March 20, 2007


On Sept. 21, 2005, at 11:00 in the morning, Tyrelle Taylor, then 18, was shot at least three times, twice in the back and once in the hand, while running away from the SFPD near his home on Northridge Road. Police are claiming that Tyrelle pointed a weapon at them. At the time of the incident, several witnesses said that Tyrelle was running from the police at the time the shots were fired.

Although no shots were fired by Tyrelle, he was arrested and then charged with assaulting three police officers who shot at him. Initially charged with attempted murder, he was later charged with assaulting a police officer, brandishing a weapon, resisting arrest and being a member of a gang.

Tyrelle, who is now in custody in the San Francisco County Jail, recently had his preliminary hearing before a judge to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to support the charges. Judge Marla Miller dismissed several key charges, including charges that Tyrelle was a gang member, rejecting the prosecutor’s claim that the alleged assault on police officers was done for a gang related purpose.

The judge heard the evidence at the hearing, which lasted for five days, and found that the gang charges were not true. It was a significant setback for the prosecution.

A trial date was set, but instead of proceeding, the prosecution dismissed the case and then brought the case to a grand jury – a secret grand jury – where the case is presented without the presence or involvement of a defense attorney. Tyrelle is now charged with eight counts of assaulting police officers – even though only three officers were named as supposed victims – and the prosecution added a sentencing enhancement that would add 10 years to each charge.

This is a clear case of overcharging, where the prosecutor has made charges just to increase the time in prison this young man faces. Before going to a grand jury, there were only three charges of assault – now there are eight.

Something is wrong with this picture. I plan to ask District Attorney Kamala Harris to personally review the case.

Tyrelle’s situation worsened when he was re-arrested one year after the initial incident for weapons possession and additional charges were added to his case, which is set for trial in June. Although this complicates the case, I still firmly believe that the punishment called for by the charges is completely out of line with what actually happened.

Tyrelle Taylor was shot three times – no officer or anyone else was injured in either incident – yet he is the one who faces 20 years in prison.

Tyrelle was one of the five children who were attacked by police on Martin Luther King Day 2002, as their parents and neighbors crowded around. The case resulted in a settlement for some of the children who were injured.

Although I haven’t seen any evidence that the earlier incident was connected to the 2005 incident, I know that Tyrelle grew up in an environment where he was fearful of police. Running from the police may seem unwise to someone who has never had negative dealings with police, but Tyrelle’s experiences have been very different.

Tyrelle grew up in Hunters Point, where he lived at the Northridge housing projects with his mother. He grew up very poor, and had to fend for himself, living in a dangerous neighborhood. His father has been incarcerated since he was a little boy, so he had little support.

Tyrelle did well in school but then began receiving poor grades in his early teens and later dropped out. He was attending the Life Learning Academy at Treasure Island at the time of the September 2005 incident.

According to the police report, police say that they received a call of two young men in a car with a gun. Several San Francisco police officers, known as “specialists,” a version of SWAT team, responded and began pursuing the vehicle. They then claim the vehicle stopped and Tyrelle came out and pointed a gun at them.

The police did not have to discharge their weapons

'I don’t believe that it was necessary to discharge their weapons, and I do question their claim that Tyrelle actually pointed a gun at them.' These words from San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi give validity and official support to the most fundamental conclusions of witnesses who watched in horror the morning of Sept. 21, 2005, as 18-year-old Tyrelle Taylor ran from police sharpshooters emptying their guns into his back.

Adachi, who is personally representing Tyrelle, sat down with Poor Magazine and poverty scholars Laure McElroy and Tiny to talk about Tyrelle’s case. It was after our interview that the prosecutor heaped the new charges on Tyrelle, and Adachi graciously offered to update our story by writing the foregoing introduction.

'He’s running from the police. There are about three to six police officers behind him. They’re everywhere. I yell out his name; he yells back and says, ‘Sister, I can’t run no more. They’re trying to kill me,’' Lata Price, Tyrelle’s neighbor, recounted in a story she wrote for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. 'And police – damn near all of them – shooting at him as if he had a grenade launcher pointed at them.'

'They never once said freeze or stop,' said Ebony, another neighbor and witness.

Now, ironically, it is Tyrelle who faces 16 charges from this and his subsequent arrest last year. Yet Adachi sees hope in the young man’s future.

'Tyrelle is a good hearted person. It’s just that he has not had the opportunity to really know himself, and he hasn’t had the kind of mentorship he needed at crucial times in his life,' Adachi said. 'He loves to read – and has been reading a new book every week since he’s been in jail.'

After Adachi remarked, in reference to Tyrelle’s voracious appetite for books, that 'some people don’t get an opportunity for an education until they’re in jail,' Tiny began to silently cry, recalling her own awakening while incarcerated.

It is extremely rare that a public defender – Adachi’s responsibilities include supervising the 93 attorneys who work for his office – actually takes a case himself, let alone such a controversial one. In response to Laure’s question as to how he feels about the fact that some San Franciscans might think he is doing it for public relations value, he simply responds that his job is to lead and he chooses to lead by example.

Adachi has made a reputation for himself as a smart and fiery defender of the people of San Francisco, and he does not hesitate to define the larger context in which the incident took place and its implications for the community – in his words, 'laws that institutionally oppress people of color, courts or law enforcement that target them,' and “gentrification.”

By way of examples, he offers a statistic and an anecdote. Only 15 percent of drug users are of African American descent, but 70 percent of people incarcerated for drug offenses are of African American descent. The poor, of course, are also disproportionately targeted.

In a recent case, a Rite Aid executive who embezzled $1.3 billion received a sentence of five years. A mother of two who was a small-time “drug mule” received a sentence of 20 years.

If Tyrelle Taylor is convicted, he could receive a similar sentence. This resonates deeply with Tiny and Laure’s poverty and race scholarship that informs their work in the welfare queens play and media project, addressing the rise in the incarceration of poor mothers.

Adachi has come to know young Taylor well since his shooting and visits him often. “I don’t think he’s somebody that would have pointed a gun at police,” Adachi says.

This is what Adachi argued at Taylor’s recent preliminary hearing. The evidence showed that there was no bullet in the chamber of the gun allegedly possessed by Taylor.

“Who would do that? What’s there to gain by simply pointing a gun at some cops, not firing and then running away?” These are some of the question that will be raised at Tyrelle’s upcoming trial.

With his trial likely to begin in June, Adachi said that Taylor receives occasional visits from family members and friends, many of whom have sent him books to read. “He enjoys reading,” Jeff Adachi repeats.

Upon hearing this, Tiny jumps ups from her chair. “Well, let’s see if he would be down to start reporting for PNN, start writing, that is.”

Jeff nods emphatically. Laure and Tiny register excitement – a new poverty and race scholar is born.

Listen to the interview with San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi on KPFA’s Morning Show broadcast Monday, March 12, at 7:30 a.m. in the archives at Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at The interviewer, Laure, a woman of African descent like Tyrelle, has written extensively about her experiences with race and class oppression. Tiny, a mixed race poverty scholar, recounts her experiences in and out of jails due to her poverty and homelessness in her new book, “Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America.”


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