Jami Tillotson, at the time a San Francisco Deputy Public Defender, was arrested without cause and unduly detained in January 2015 according to a now public investigation by the Office of Citizen Complaints. While defending the rights of her client, whom plainclothes officers were questioning and photographing in a courthouse hallway in connection with another criminal investigation, widely circulated video shows officer Sgt. Brian Stansbury placing Tillotson under arrest, purportedly for the crime of resisting arrest.
As the police watchdog agency wrote in a release, the Office of Citizens Complaints "sustained two of Tillotson’s complaints against the officers: Making an arrest without cause and detaining a person in an unduly prolonged manner without justification." Tillotson was taken to a police station and handcuffed to a bench for an hour before her release.
Further, Office of Citizens Complaints investigators "found a policy failure on the part of SFPD on two allegations, including the interfering with the right to counsel and conduct reflecting discredit on the department in the case of an officer who made inappropriate comments to the media following the incident."
On the day of the arrest, January 27, Tillotson was speaking with one client in a courtroom holding tank when she got word that plainclothes police officers were questioning another of her clients, who along with a co-defendant was in the building for a misdemeanor shoplifting charge.
In the end, Tillotson was charged with no crime after being arrested. However, it isn't public whether or not the officer and his colleagues have been disciplined internally, which the attorney, who is now in private practice according to CBSSF, finds unsatisfactory. “It is discouraging that even a year later in my very public case where the allegations were sustained, there has still been no response on whether the officers faced discipline or if there were any changes made in policy or training,” Tillotson said according to a release.
“Public defenders represent people with little money and even less power,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who released the results of the Office of Citizens Complaints investigation, said with regard to the incident. “It is contempt for the poor that results in routine disrespect of public defenders. In the face of this contempt, Jami never wavered in her duty to her client. That’s because the right to counsel is a shield to protect ordinary citizens from intimidation.”
Sadly, Tillotson worries that the Office of Citizens Complaints' findings will have little or no impact. “As a public defender, my clients would frequently tell me they didn’t want to file an OCC complaint even in the most egregious of circumstances because they felt it was a waste of time," she said. "This is particularly true in cases where someone is violently or unlawfully arrested, but never charged. It means their ordeals will never be heard in court and they will never really know what, if anything, happens to the officers involved.”