SFDA’s Annual Justice Awards Highlights Victims and Witnesses Amid Climate of Hate & Xenophobia
News from the Office of District Attorney George Gascón
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 7, 2017
CONTACT: Alex Bastian (415) 553-1931
Maxwell Szabo (415) 553-9089
SFDA’S ANNUAL JUSTICE AWARDS HIGHLIGHTS VICTIMS AND WITNESSES AMID CLIMATE OF HATE & XENOPHOBIA
SAN FRANCISCO — Today, District Attorney George Gascón and representatives from our Victim Services Division awarded two victims, a witness, and a non-profit for their strength, resilience and commitment to justice.
“I’m floored by the selflessness and bravery that each of our awardees displayed in spite of difficult circumstances,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “These people define the values that San Franciscans hold dear, and the principles that we should all aspire to.”
The awardees included an undocumented immigrant who cooperated with authorities to hold a violent man accountable despite grave concerns that he would face immigration consequences, avictim of a hate crime who put himself at risk in order to protect children from potential harm, and a victim of a carjacking who worked with law enforcement despite the inability for the case to be charged.
In 2016, SFDA charged a man for a felony assault with a deadly weapon. It was a strike offense that, if convicted, would have been the defendant’s third. The victim was a United States citizen, so too was the only witness prosecutors had identified at the time charges were filed. Regrettably, the witness, whose testimony was essential to securing the conviction, refused to testify. Facing the prospect that the charges against the violent offender would have to be dismissed, Assistant District Attorney Tom Ostly and District Attorney Inspector Lissette Souza discovered additional evidence on the first day of trial that identified another witness. ADA Ostly personally went to the scene of the crime and found the second witness, an undocumented immigrant who had pulled the aggressor off the victim. This witness was fearful of immigration consequences, and was hesitant to come forward and testify. Nonetheless, ADA Ostly assured this witness that he would not share his immigration status with Federal immigration officials.
ADA Ostly reflected today, saying, “We really need to be honest with each other, to look in the mirror and ask whether our current approach is causing more harm than good – even for our own citizens. This witness was so reluctant to come forward, and had he not a violent offender would not have been held accountable.”
In a letter provided to SFDA today, this witness recalled his concern of being deported and not being able to provide for his wife and daughter. In spite of these fears, he indicated in his letter that, “it was the right thing to do, even if it resulted in [his] deportation.”
The man worked with SFDA and testified, and was subject to significant cross-examination by the defense which included questioning related to his immigration status in open court. The defendant was subsequently found guilty of the assault with a deadly weapon. In the letter from the witness, much of which was read at today’s awards ceremony, he asked that the public know that, “not all Mexicans are bad.”
Fearful of public recognition, this witness received his award during a private ceremony this morning. During the public Justice Awards ceremony, DA Gascón said that, “He was not here today to receive recognition because he was afraid of being deported. There is something inherently wrong with that, it just feels un-American that we can’t publicly recognize a hero.”
You can watch today’s award ceremony by clicking here.