The defense attorney for one of those men tells the I-Team that without that video evidence, his client could have spent the rest of his life in jail. The I-Team has obtained a copy of the video.
At 2:00 a.m. on the morning of July 16 in the Tenderloin, one of San Francisco's roughest neighborhoods, a surveillance camera at Taylor and Turk streets captured Michael Weiland's last moments.
It's one of 70 cameras the city installed three years ago as part of an effort to reduce crime and help convict criminals caught in the act.
"I lobbied vigorously that our district, District 5, Western addition and surrounding area, be the first in the city to pilot the crime cameras," said San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi who was an early advocate. However, now he has his doubts. "If there are going to be city cameras out there, then it better be city cameras that one, work well and work effectively, and actually do the job that I think was what they were intended to do."
Public defender Kwixuan Maloof says that while the cameras might not be helping much with convictions, they did provide the crucial evidence that helped his client, 44-year-old Robert Cooper, beat a murder rap.
"In California, if you're convicted of murder, 25 to life means you're going to die in prison," said Maloof.
Witnesses told police they saw Cooper and another man beat Weiland to death.
"They said after the decedent fell on the ground, my client continued to punch him in the face. They said my client kicked him and stomped on his face with his feet. And when you look at the video, you see none of that happened," said Maloof.
The video shows what happened. As Weiland walks down the street, he gets into an argument with a woman. He grabs her and throws her down. As he continues down the street, another woman swings at him. So he throws the bottle in his hand at her.
Maloof's client, Cooper, grabs Weiland from behind, throws him to the ground, then walks away. As Weiland gets up, a second man, Robert Hannah, punches him. Weiland takes a few steps, then collapses in the street. He was pronounced dead at the scene about half an hour later.
"Without these cameras, we had witnesses that gave false statements, and my client no doubt would still be in jail facing murder charges," said Maloof.
After viewing the video at a court hearing on Tuesday, the district attorney withdrew murder charges against both Cooper and Hannah.
Cooper is still facing grand theft charges for taking Weiland's wallet while he lay on the ground dying, even though he put it back, telling police he could not find any cash inside.
The district attorney reduced the murder charge against Hannah -- the man seen on video hitting Weiland -- to aggravated assault.
"Our interest here is discerning the facts and what happened, and we have to go where the evidence leads us," said Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the San Francisco district attorney.
We asked Derryck why Cooper and Hannah had been charged with murder in the first place if their attorneys had already viewed the video.
"At the time the case was initially charged, the video that was presented was raw footage. We later received an enhanced copy of that videotape that allowed us to be able to discern many more of the facts and the circumstances around what was happening, and therefore based on that evidence, we had to amend the charges," said Derryck.
Maloof says the crime cameras are doing what they were supposed to -- protect the community -- even if it is not the way the authorities intended.
"The cameras apparently are not being used like the police thought they'd be used, to help convict people. But I think justice is not about convicting people. Justice is about finding the truth, and in this case, the cameras found the truth," said Maloof.
Through his attorney, Cooper declined to be interviewed for this story. He's happy to be clear of the murder charge, but he is still facing grand theft. Cooper was on probation for a drug offense at the time of his arrest in this case.