The San Francisco Public Defender's Office is outraged after Jami Tillotson, a deputy public defender at the office, was arrested Tuesday outside a courtroom for asking a plainclothes officer not to interview her client or take his photograph.
According to a video released by the defender's office, Tillotson and her client, an African-American male, are shown standing in a courtroom hallway when the officer, who has been identified as San Francisco Police Inspector Brian Stansbury, approaches and begins taking photos with what appears to be a camera phone.
Tillotson intervenes, and Stansbury can be heard threatening to arrest the attorney. "Look, you can either step aside, he can be released in two minutes or we can make this … " Stansbury says.
Tillotson responds, "I'm pretty sure that we're OK here. We don't need any pictures taken, thank you."
Stansbury continues: "No, you're not pretty sure. If you continue with this … I'll arrest you for resisting arrest."
"Please do," Tillotson says, and she is placed in handcuffs and led away. Stansbury can be seen continuing to take photos.
"This is not Guantanamo Bay. People have an absolute right to have their attorneys present during questioning," San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi wrote in a press release viewed by The Guardian. "A uniform does not give you a license to bully innocent people into submission. If this happens to a public defender in front of her client, I can only imagine what is happening on our streets."
A police representative told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that the officer involved in Tillotson's arrest had a right to detain anyone who was obstructing a criminal investigation, The Guardian reported. The rep also noted that an investigation into the matter is ongoing.
According to The Guardian, Tillotson was detained for an hour before she was released. Tillotson told reporters that she was in another area of the courthouse when someone informed her that her client was being questioned. She noted that her client was in court for minor theft charges and was merely standing when Stansbury began questioning him on a matter that was not related to his court appearance.
Tillotson, who has been a lawyer for some 18 years, noted that she was stunned when she was arrested. "It was surreal to be led away in handcuffs for doing my job," she said, according to The Guardian.