From: SF Chronicle
By: Megan Cassidy, 9/23/2022
Two former Alameda County sheriff’s deputies who were accused of unlawfully beating a fleeing man in a Mission District alley in 2015 are facing only minor criminal penalties after they quietly struck plea agreements with San Francisco prosecutors late last year.
The agreements were reached under former District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who was recalled in June, but Boudin made no apparent public mention at the time of the conclusion of the long-running case against Luis Santamaria and Paul Wieber. The deals suggest prosecutors weren’t confident in taking the case to trial and came despite Boudin’s pledge to make law enforcement accountability a central tenet of his time in office.
Boudin declined to comment Thursday, leaving unanswered questions about why his office accepted the plea deals after filing felony charges against the deputies.
Stanislav Petrov’s beating at the hands of Santamaria and Wieber drew national outrage. Petrov, a suspected car thief whom the deputies pursued from the East Bay, appeared to surrender just before Santamaria and Wieber rained blows on him with batons. Defense attorneys in the case argued the deputies were justified in using force to subdue Petrov.
Michael Rains, who represents Santamaria, said the plea agreement was a just outcome for his client, who he said had been suffering from post-traumatic stress before the incident.
“I don’t think that there was any kind of preferential treatment extended to him at all,” Rains said, noting that state statutes allow for mental health diversion for circumstances like Santamaria’s. “I think he was entitled to take advantage of the law as it currently is written. And he did.”
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, who was appointed by Mayor London Breed after leading a successful recall of Boudin, criticized the agreements as excessively lenient, and said she was unaware of them until after she took office in July.
“This is not a case where these two individuals should have received misdemeanors or diversion,” Jenkins said, calling footage of the beating “horrifying.”
Jenkins said prosecutors will argue against Wieber’s request to have his misdemeanor conviction expunged but said her office could not alter the plea agreements.
The Nov. 12, 2015, incident began with a high-speed chase across the Bay Bridge, in which then-29-year-old Petrov was accused of driving a stolen vehicle he used to ram into two patrol cars in the East Bay. The pursuit led to a foot chase in a Mission District alley, where the deputies were captured on video tackling Petrov and beating him with batons.
Footage of the incident, which was uploaded to YouTube by then-San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who died in February 2019, shows Petrov writhing on the ground with his hands clasped over his head as the beating continues.
The beating left Petrov with head trauma and broken bones. He was taken into federal custody for weapons and gun charges. In 2016, Alameda County agreed to pay Petrov a $5.5 million civil settlement over the beating. The Sheriff’s Office fired Wieber, Santamaria and a third deputy involved in the incident.
Before the plea agreements, the case’s nearly seven-year slog through the criminal justice system was hobbled by a series of setbacks under two district attorneys.
George Gascón, Boudin’s predecessor, initially charged Wieber and Santamaria with three felonies related to assault and battery, to which they pleaded not guilty. But for two years, the office made little progress on the case as it was shuffled between prosecutors in a new investigative unit.
Boudin later dismissed the criminal case in March 2020 — with plans to refile — saying that a key witness’ medical situation and the pandemic delayed the case. After his office refiled the cast last year, Boudin said he would “do whatever it takes” to hold the officers accountable.
Last November, Santamaria withdrew his not guilty plea to assault by a public officer, battery with serious bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon, and was assigned to a mental health diversion program for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court records. If Santamaria successfully completes the program, the case will not move forward.
Santamaria is scheduled to appear in court next week to discuss his progress.
Wieber pleaded guilty last December to one felony count of assault by a public officer, and was given what’s known as a deferred entry of judgment, with a sentencing scheduled for Nov. 17.
The terms of Wieber’s plea agreement state that if he avoids getting arrested again, the felony charge will be reduced to a misdemeanor. All other charges were dismissed.
Court records show that Wieber’s attorney, Rick Pinckard, additionally plans to argue that the misdemeanor conviction be expunged from his client’s record during the November hearing. Pinckard declined to comment for this story.
Transcripts of court proceedings show that prosecutors did not object to the terms of the plea agreements.
In Santamaria’s case, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Charles Crompton said that at least four clinical professionals had diagnosed Santamaria with post-traumatic stress disorder and found that the disorder “played a significant role in the charged crimes.”
Rains, Santamaria’s attorney, said his client suffered from PTSD because of several traumatic events, including three police shootings. Three months before the San Francisco incident, Rains said, Santamaria had been the first officer on the scene of a fatal shooting of a Hayward police sergeant “and had literally tried to put the brains of the sergeant back in his head to try to save him.”
San Francisco’s then-Assistant District Attorney Eric Quandt said at the plea hearing that both Petrov and his mother objected to the mental health diversion deal.
Michael Haddad, one of Petrov’s attorneys in his civil case, said he had not heard about the plea agreements until a Chronicle reporter contacted him on Thursday.
“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said. “This should have been a slam-dunk case, and these guys should be serving time in prison and never be allowed to be law-enforcement officers again.”
At the December hearing over Wieber’s plea agreement, then-Assistant District Attorney Lateef Gray declined to state why prosecutors reached the agreement when asked by the judge.
Reached by phone Thursday, Gray said he didn’t consider the deals lenient: Santamaria, he said, was eligible for mental health diversion, and Wieber’s arrangement was in line with that of other defendants facing similar charges.
“The fact of the matter is that we take our defendants as they come, and we treat them all equally,” he said.
When asked why the case was treated differently than that of San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel, who went to trial this year and was acquitted in a baton-beating case, Gray said there were details about Santamaria and Wieber’s case that he couldn’t discuss.
Jenkins said that while her office can’t pursue changes in Santamaria’s case, her prosecutors will argue that Wieber’s probable misdemeanor shouldn’t be expunged.
“It was our job, and it still is, to ensure that these two individuals don’t become police officers ever again,” she said. “We need to be making sure that he doesn’t go and apply to some other sheriff’s department and get hired, as though this never happened.”