January 29, 2015

A San Francisco deputy public defender was handcuffed and arrested at the Hall of Justice after she objected to city police officers questioning her client outside a courtroom, an incident that her office called outrageous and police officials defended as appropriate.

The Tuesday afternoon arrest of attorney Jami Tillotson as she denied police officers’ attempts to take photos of her client without explanation raised questions about police intimidation and harassment, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said at a Wednesday news conference.

But police said the five officers, led by a plainclothes sergeant, were investigating a burglary case in which Tillotson’s client and his co-defendant were considered persons of interest. Tillotson was cited for misdemeanor resisting or delaying arrest because she obstructed a police investigation, officials said.

“I was arrested for what we do as public defenders every day,” Tillotson said of the encounter, which was captured in a video that the public defender’s office posted on YouTube. “I asked questions. I talked to my client and explained to him his rights. At that point, I was told I was interfering and taken into custody.”

Adachi said, “This is not Guantanamo Bay. You have an absolute right to have a lawyer with you when you’re questioned. Ms. Tillotson was simply doing her job.”

Tillotson’s client had just made an appearance in Department 17 on the second floor with a co-defendant for a misdemeanor theft charge when they left the courtroom and came under questioning by a plainclothes police officer at about 2 p.m., authorities said.

Other attorneys with the public defender’s office filmed the interaction, in which the plainclothes officer, Sgt. Brian Stansbury, told Tillotson, “I just want to take some pictures, OK, and he’ll be free to go.” When she declined his request, Stansbury said, “If you continue to do this, I will arrest you for resisting arrest.”

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