Report: African Americans arrested in San Francisco face more serious charges than whites

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's public defender says he is forming a new unit to help prevent racial disparities in the city's judicial system. The conclusion of a report he released today showing that African Americans receive more serious charges when they're arrested than whites.

"I didn't think this could happen to me in America, but it did," Leslie Elliott said.

Elliott was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and other felonies in an incident where Elliott says she accidentally spilled coffee on a woman who told police she assaulted her and her dog.

A jury eventually acquitted her of all charges except for resisting arrest, which is a misdemeanor.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Elliott is an example of what the report found - that there are racial disparities in San Francisco's judicial system.

The report says it all starts from the time a person of color is arrested.

"It results in people of color, particularly African Americans, being charged with more serious charges earlier on and more charges," Adachi said. "And essentially that sets the tone for the case throughout the entire system."

The district attorney's office says it looks only at facts and evidence in making charging decisions.

"They're reviewing evidence submitted by the police and that does not include evidence of race," District Attorney Spokesman Max Szabo said.

The report appears to support that saying there were no significant statistical differences in the severity of charges prosecutors added for blacks of Latinos compared to whites.

The San Francisco Police Department responded with a statement that says in part, "our officers charge individuals based on the elements of the crimes present. The standard for an arrest is based upon probable cause."

In response to the report, Adachi is creating a new unit with deputy public defenders ready to intervene between the arrest and arraignment of those taken into custody.

Adachi's new unit will be launched in October.

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