San Francisco Bay Area Friday Morning News Roundup

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Santa Clara Co.: Three Teen Boys Arrested in Alleged Sexual Assault of Girl Who Later Committed Suicide

Three teenage boys were arrested at school Thursday in connection with the alleged sexual assault in Saratoga last fall of a 15-year-old girl who later committed suicide, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Two of the boys were taken into custody Thursday morning at Saratoga High School, and the third was arrested at Christopher High School in Gilroy, Santa Clara County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said.

All three were booked into Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall.

The boys, all age 16, were each arrested on suspicion of two counts of felony sexual battery and a misdemeanor -- all related to the alleged assault, Stenderup said.

The girl, Audrie Pott, a Saratoga High School sophomore, committed suicide after learning that a photo someone took of the assault was posted online, said Robert Allard, a San Jose attorney retained by her parents, who gave permission through him to release her name.

Stenderup said the sheriff's office cannot share much about the case yet because the investigation is still open and it involves juveniles.

"Our detectives are still actively writing search warrants," Stenderup said.

"I'm told this is far from being over." Allard compared the case to a recent one in Steubenville, Ohio, where photos were circulated of an unconscious girl who was sexually assaulted by high school boys during a party.

Two boys were convicted of rape in that case in March.

He said Audrie's parents are seeking to sue about 10 people, including high school students and some parents, in connection with the assault.

Allard alleged that at least three high school boys took part in multiple sexual acts on the drunken teen while she lay unconscious in the bedroom of the home of a friend whose parents where gone for the weekend last September.

The party at the Saratoga home was attended by eight to 10 high school students who consumed hard liquor mixed with Gatorade, Allard said.

Someone took at least one photo of the unclothed girl as the alleged sexual attack took place, and the picture was shown to others, then sent by text and email and finally posted on Facebook, Allard said.

"It went viral," Allard said. "It was pervasively disseminated."

The girl decided not to inform her parents about the sexual assault, but after learning that a photo had been distributed, she posted some messages on her Facebook page, he said.

According to Allard, she wrote: "They took pictures of me. My life is ruined" and that it was "the worst day ever."

She told one friend about what occurred, and committed suicide in Los Altos eight days after the alleged assault, Allard said.

SF: Printing Company Owner, Manager Plead Guilty To Worker's Death in 2008

The owner and manager of a San Francisco printing company and the company itself all have pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the death of a pregnant worker who was crushed to death by a machine on the job in 2008, prosecutors said Thursday.

Digital Pre-Press International owner and CEO Sanjay Sakhuja, 54, and pressroom manager Alick Yeung pleaded guilty in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday for the death of Margarita Mojica, a 26-year-old Oakland woman, on Jan. 29, 2008.

Mojica was crushed by a creasing and cutting machine that suddenly activated as she reached into it, prosecutors said.

Sakhuja pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and five felony counts of willful violations of California Division of Occupational Safety and Health regulations causing death or permanent injury, while Yeung pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating Cal/OSHA codes.

According to court records, workers at the company were not trained on safety procedures, including turning off the machine's power source before reaching inside to set up creasing and cutting jobs.

Prosecutors also alleged that the machine lacked required safety devices.

A guilty plea was also entered on behalf of the corporation, which will likely face a fine of between $50,000 and $150,000, prosecutors said.

Sakhuja faces up to three years in state prison and a fine of $250,000, but if he pays the corporate and personal fines before the Oct. 11 sentencing, the sentence could be reduced to one year in county jail and five years' probation, according to the district attorney's office.

Yeung is being sentenced to three years' probation, prosecutors said.

"The law should afford everyone the right to a safe working environment," District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement.

"We will not stand idly by, when corporations and their owners should be held criminally liable for fatalities at the workplace." Tony Brass, Sakhuja's defense attorney, was not immediately available for comment.

Oakland: Premeditation Is Key Issue For Man Who Killed Sister's Stalker

A prosecutor and a defense attorney agreed Thursday that Donald Britton fatally shot a man who had been stalking his sister but they strongly differed on whether he premeditated the man's death.

In her closing argument in Britton's trial on a murder charge for the death of 50-year-old Leo Dunson in the 2900 block of High Street on June 4, 2011, prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said the slaying was "totally premeditated" because Britton's "plan was to murder" Dunson.

Pettigrew said Britton, 38, "didn't give this man (Dunson) any chance to explain himself or defend himself" when he confronted Dunson and instead simply started shooting at him. Pettigrew, who said Britton should be found guilty of first-degree murder, said Britton "was going to keep shooting until his bullets ran out or Leo was dead."

But defense attorney Kathleen Guneratne said Britton should be found not guilty because he acted in self-defense after Dunson fought with him and choked him.

Referring to Britton's testimony earlier this week, Guneratne said Britton "said the guy (Dunson) came after him and he felt his life was in danger."

Britton "didn't go there to kill the guy (Dunson)," Guneratne said.

The defense attorney said, "It's no mystery -- you know who killed Mr. Dunson but you need to figure out what was in his (Britton's) head and if his conduct was justifiable."

The key witness in the trial was Britton's sister, Chantelle Britton.

She didn't testify at Britton's preliminary hearing in early January because she hid from authorities but she was recently arrested and ordered to testify at his trial.

Chantelle Britton testified that she was afraid of Dunson because he had been following her, including the night before the fatal shooting.

She said she wanted her brother to talk with Dunson but didn't ask him to harm Dunson and didn't know he had a gun.

Chantelle Britton said she pointed out Dunson to her brother on June 4, 2011, and then walked away.

She said that when she heard gunshots a short time later she felt guilty because she had asked her brother to talk to Dunson.

Guneratne told jurors Thursday that they should be skeptical about Chantelle Britton's testimony because at one point she also was subject to prosecution for first-degree murder for pointing out Dunson to her brother.

Donald Britton remained at large until last Aug. 1, when he was arrested at his job at a Walmart store in Carson City, Nev.

SF: Police Chief Discusses Why He Abandoned Push For Tasers

Three San Francisco police chiefs have tried and three have failed. San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr on Wednesday decided to shelve a proposal to equip some of his officers with stun guns.

The chief said Thursday that although his plan was more fine-tuned than his predecessors', there was still too much opposition in the community. Suhr announced his decision at Wednesday's meeting of the Police Commission at City Hall.

The pilot program would have allowed certain officers who had undergone crisis intervention training to handle the devices, while previous San Francisco police Chiefs Heather Fong and George Gascon had pushed for their use by all officers.

"I thought I had a more practical approach," Suhr said Thursday.

He had asked for the use of Tasers last year after a deadly officer-involved shooting, saying they would provide officers with a less-lethal option when defending themselves.

The Police Department held multiple community meetings earlier this year to get recommendations on what the proposal should look like and Suhr said the restrictions that were proposed would have prevented officers from using the devices against almost any type of person.

"It's young people, it's old people, it's pregnant women, some suggested all women, people that are mentally ill, people that are in crisis, which is the exact population we're trying to not have to harm if they come at the officers.

Wet people, which I guess would rule out rainy days, near roadways, and on and on and on," Suhr said.

He said, "If you have a tool and you can't use it, why bother having it?" The chief said the Police Department is still studying other options besides stun guns.

Officers currently are able to use a shotgun that shoots beanbags and is the equivalent of "being hit by a hard fastball," Suhr said.

The chief's decision was lauded by civil rights and homeless advocate groups, including the group Coalition on Homelessness - San Francisco, which opposed the proposed use of Tasers, saying they are too dangerous and are often used unnecessarily.

"We're very excited, we think they made the right decision," said Jennifer Friedenbach, the group's executive director.

"They're going to save lives by not using Tasers." However, the San Francisco Police Officers Association is disappointed that the proposal is not going forward.

Although Suhr said he thought the Police Commission would have approved the pilot program, union vice president Martin Halloran said he thought the Police Commission pressured the chief to drop it.

"The Police Commission is pushing this on our membership," Halloran said. "It just shows that the Police Commission is out of touch."

The devices are used by nearly every major police department in the country, as well as the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which has had Tasers since 2002.

San Leandro: Police Arrest Oakland Woman For Leaving 4-Month-Old Girl in Car While Shopping 

An Oakland woman was arrested in San Leandro Wednesday for leaving her 4-month-old girl in her car while she went shopping, police said.

Officers responded to a report of an infant left unattended in a car at the Marina Square Shopping Center in the 1200 block of Marina Boulevard at about 12:25 p.m., according to police.

When officers arrived, they found the baby sitting in a child car seat, police said.

The temperature at the time of the officers' arrival was approaching 80 degrees, according to police.

Officers searched several stores for the infant's guardian and eventually found her mother, identified as Robin Chan, shopping in a store, police said.

Chan had no logical explanation for leaving her child in the car unattended and was arrested for child neglect and transported to jail, according to police.

The baby's father responded to the scene and took custody of his daughter after medical personnel evaluated her and determined her to be OK, police said.

Richmond: Residents, City Leaders Call On Banks to Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure

Like hundreds of other Richmond homeowners, Juan Sandoval owes more on his mortgage than his house is worth -- in other words, he's underwater.

Sandoval was joined Thursday by neighbors, city leaders and other community members at a news conference in front of his home on 24th Street to call on banks to reduce mortgage principals for underwater homeowners like him.

"The foreclosure crisis is far from over. I'm underwater, most of my neighbors are underwater, and many of us will lose our homes if nothing is done," he said.

"The big banks that created the housing crisis with their greedy and reckless lending practices need to do the right thing and write down the principal on these loans."

One attendee held a sign with a map of Richmond dotted with yellow points representing the homes now on their way to foreclosure, and others held posters with phrases like "Keep Richmond families in their homes."

Members of the statewide community non-profit Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment were also gathered in front of Sandoval's home and handed out a report released Thursday, "The Wall Street Wrecking Ball," detailing the effects of the foreclosure crisis on Richmond.

According to ACCE, 914 Richmond families lost their homes to foreclosure last year alone, and 230 Richmond homeowners are now on the road to foreclosure.

In addition, some 4,600 homeowners are underwater on their mortgages, according to the ACCE report.

Last year's foreclosures resulted in about $216 million in lost home value, roughly $1.4 million in falling property tax revenue and an estimated $8 million cost for local governments due to foreclosures, according to the report.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin urged community members Thursday to stand together to demand banks to lower principal on their home loans and to stop unfair or predatory practices.

"The banks aren't going to benevolently help us -- the banks have been the cause of this wrecking ball -- it's wrecking neighborhoods, it's wrecking lives, it's wrecking our economy in Richmond," she said.

In addition to draining money from local residents and businesses, foreclosures create instability in Richmond neighborhoods, resulting in code enforcement issues and property crimes, McLaughlin said.

"It creates a situation of despair for the families who are suffering and that, too, has an expense," she said.

Brisbane: Three Residents Displaced After 2-Alarm House Fire

A two-alarm fire in the Brisbane hills displaced three residents Thursday afternoon, a North County Fire Authority spokesman said. Fire officials received a call at 2:50 p.m. reporting an explosion heard in the area of the 400 block of Sierra Point Road, spokesman Matt Lucett said. Fire crews were alerted that there was smoke and flames coming from the house and upon arrival switched to a two-alarm response, Lucett said. The blaze was in the first story of the two-story home. Two residents who had been home were able to get out safely, Lucett said. The fire has been extinguished but crews remained at the scene as of 4 p.m. The residence sustained smoke damage throughout and the first story was damaged by flames, Lucett said. Three residents living in the home have made arrangements to stay with relatives and friends. Neighboring homes were not threatened by the blaze, and no evacuations were necessary, according to Lucett. The cause is under investigation. Lucett said the explosion initially reported appears to have been associated with the fire. Brisbane police blocked traffic on the street Thursday afternoon. A resident on the block said at around 3:30 p.m. that there was black smoke emanating from a home a few doors down. The 63-year-old resident, who has lived on Sierra Point Road since 1980, said he could see smoke and that he heard firefighters knocking out windows and other parts of the building. He said there were fire crews and police cars blocking the narrow hilly street.

SF: Prosecutors, Police Call Attention To Dangers of Distracted Driving

In the wake of a recent state appellate court decision ruling that it is illegal to hold your phone while driving, San Francisco prosecutors and police Thursday called attention to the dangers of distracted driving. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said that ruling last month has "a tremendous impact" on how authorities in the city target distracted drivers. Police Cmdr. Mikail Ali said distracted driving is not only caused by cellphones, but also "combing your hair, shaving, putting on makeup ... anything that takes away your attention from operating your vehicle." Ali said, "In the roadway isn't the place to handle those issues." According to the city's Municipal Transportation Agency, about 60 percent of pedestrian traffic injuries and fatalities in San Francisco occur in crosswalks, compared to 45 percent in the entire state and 44 percent in New York City, a similarly dense urban area. San Francisco prosecutors, police and the California Highway Patrol will continue education and enforcement efforts to reduce distracted driving and the accidents it often causes. "We need to work together to reduce the mayhem that's going on on our streets," Gascon said. More information on distracted driving can be found online at www.distraction.gov

SF: Pedestrian Fatally Struck Near City College Identified

A woman who was struck and killed by a pickup truck while crossing a crosswalk in San Francisco's Sunnyside neighborhood on Wednesday evening has been identified by the medical examiner's office as 60-year-old Becky Lee. Lee, a San Francisco resident, was struck at 6:58 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of Judson Avenue and Edna Street, just east of City College of San Francisco's Ocean campus, police said. She was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The driver of the Dodge truck, a 42-year-old woman, stopped at the scene and cooperated with investigators, police spokesman Officer Gordon Shyy said. The collision remains under investigation. The four-way intersection of Judson Avenue and Edna Street has stop signs in all directions.

Richmond: New Resource Center Opens For Local Veterans

U.S. military veterans, local leaders and supporters were warmly welcomed Thursday afternoon to a new home and resource center for local veterans in Richmond.

About three-dozen people gathered for Thursday's grand opening of the Veterans Resource Program at the roomy two-story house surrounded by a white picket fence at 934 Maine Ave.

Rhonda Harris, the program's founder and director, dedicated the new center to her father, the late Pvt. Harry L. Williams, and told attendees Thursday that the house is meant to be a place where veterans of all ages can find much-needed help and support.

"The veterans' program was born out of a desire to honor my father. It's a place where they can obtain resources for their immediate and future needs," she said.

The program will connect veterans to services through the United States and California Departments of Veteran Affairs and non-profit organizations and will provide information about employment, housing and health care resources.

Veterans who walk into the new resource center can also get help filing benefits claims forms, use computers to search for jobs, or socialize with fellow former servicemen and women.

The center is also home to four previously homeless veterans.

One of those residents, former U.S. Marine Jaime Garcia, 59, said that since moving into the house on Maine Avenue a year ago, he has been able to overcome an alcohol addiction that worsened when he lived under a freeway overpass in Oakland.

"This is like a restarting point. It allows you to reclaim your good character back again.

It gives you the time to transition from all of the negative," he said. Harris, a longtime supporter of local veterans, said that the organization, which she and resource center residents are funding, is seeking sponsors.

In addition, the new organization is now meeting monthly with city leaders, the local homeless advocacy group Shelter, Inc. and the American Legion post of El Cerrito to better meet local veterans' needs.

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Peter Gravett, secretary of the state Department of Veteran Affairs, each stressed the important role of community organizations like the Veterans Resource Program in helping veterans transition back to civilian life.

"All veterans don't need services, but for the veterans that do, we need to make sure we reach out at every level," Gravett said at Thursday's grand opening ceremony.

"They are our national treasures."

SF: Court Rejects Brown Administration Bid to Modify Order to Reduce Prison Population

A three-judge federal court has rejected a bid by Gov. Jerry Brown for modification of its order for the reduction of the number of inmates in the state's overcrowded prisons.

"The constitutional violations with respect to the provision of medical and mental health care are still ongoing," the court said in a ruling issued Thursday in San Francisco.

The 2009 order, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, requires the state to reduce the population of its 33 adult prisons to 110,000, or 137.5 percent of planned capacity, by Dec. 31.

The prisons now house 119,400 inmates, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The panel mandated the reduction four years ago after concluding that severe overcrowding was primary cause of "woefully and constitutionally inadequate" health care in the prisons.

At the time, the prisons held 150,000 inmates, or nearly double the planned capacity of 80,000.

Much of the reduction since then has been achieved through the so-called realignment policy, in which low-level offenders are placed in county jails instead of state prisons.

Brown, arguing that conditions have now improved, asked the panel in January to lift or ease the reduction order.

But the court said Brown hadn't shown that the health care now meets constitutional standards or that there were any other circumstances to justify lifting the order.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman said the state will appeal.

Hoffman said California has invested more than $1 billion in its prison health care system and now provides "timely and effective health care to inmates that far exceeds what the Constitution requires."

The three-judge court is made up of U.S. District Judges Thelton Henderson of San Francisco and Lawrence Karlton of Sacramento and 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles.

Henderson and Karlton are presiding over two long-running civil rights cases in which prisoners challenged the adequacy of medical and mental health care.

The judges noted that the Supreme Court found the 137.5 percent population cap necessary and said, "Defendants have already lost this argument, and they should not be allowed to relitigate it."

The judges said they will consider finding Brown and prison officials in contempt of court if they do not comply with the order.

They said it is up to the Brown administration to decide how to reduce the population, but suggested that officials could achieve the goal safely by expanding good-behavior credits and releasing low-risk elderly prisoners early.

The three-member court was convened under a federal law that provides that in prison civil rights cases, an order to reduce inmate population can be made only by a three-judge panel, rather than by a single judge, and only as a last resort.

Bay Area Friday Morning Weather Forecast

Sunny skies are likely in the Bay Area this morning. Highs are expected to be in the 60s, with westerly winds up to 15 mph. Mostly clear skies are likely this evening.

Lows are expected to be in the upper 40s, with westerly winds up to 20 mph. Partly cloudy skies are expected Saturday morning.

Highs are likely to be in the lower 60s, with westerly winds up to 20 mph in the afternoon.

 

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