Tenderloin Community Defends Neighbor in Homicide

The fistfight between two neighbors appeared to be initiated by the elderly man who died.

San Francisco artist Sylvester Guard Jr. paints a trashcan near O’Farrell and Hyde streets in the Tenderloin District in 2017.(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A Tenderloin artist facing charges related to an elderly neighbor had a courtroom of supporters behind him at an arraignment on Thursday.

About a dozen people from the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and Hospitality House vouched for their friend Sylvester Guard by showing up to the Hall of Justice on Thursday, asking for his release. He was arrested on Sept. 2 after the death of 66-year-old James Montgomery, according to court records.

Both knew each other as residents at Edgeworth Hotel, on O’Farrell Street between Hyde and Larkin streets. Video footage captured the incident around 1:20 p.m., in which Montgomery was described as intoxicated and seen throwing the first strike. 

Judge Victor Hwang did note that Guard threw a majority of the punches in the “mutual combat”, but that it did not appear to be in a fit of rage and that his pauses to assess the situation showed reflection. When Montgomery fell, Guard remained on the scene, tried to administer CPR, and had neighbors call for help.

Montgomery was pronounced dead at the hospital but was later found to have died instantly from one hit. Guard was arrested and faces charges of voluntary manslaughter, assault with force likely to cause bodily injury, and inflicting injury on elderly or dependent adult likely to cause great bodily injury.

“This is a very unfortunate incident,” said Abigail Rivamonte Mesa, deputy public defender, to the judge. “He’s a pillar of the community.”

Guard has painted murals, electric boxes, and garbage cans commissioned by the city. As a resident of the Tenderloin of more than 20 years who was formerly homeless, he has strong ties the surrounding community and no criminal background, Rivamonte Mesa argued.

Judge Hwang — who disclosed that he has donated to Hospitality House in the past — determined Guard was not a flight risk or danger to public safety agreed to grant release. Pending approval from the Sheriff’s Department, Guard will wear an electronic ankle monitor and be allowed to leave the home for ordered anger management classes.

As Judge Hwang made the announcement, Guard’s supporters, in tears, gave each other reassuring hugs. The two groups, plus his aunt, declined to comment as the case is pending but rallied to speak to his character as someone who plays a positive role for others and is not usually involved in situations like this.

“I think it’s a huge impact,” Rivamonte Mesa said. “It takes the situation out of the four corners of the police report.”

Guard is next scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 27.

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