San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart ordered seven spectators arrested for witness intimidation during a preliminary hearing today in a murder case. The men, associates of defendant Charles Heard, all stood up in the courtroom gallery when a witness to the alleged shooting, which took place in North Beach in 2008, was asked to identify Heard in the room.
"That's just out-and-out intimidation of a witness," Swart said, as the men rose and the female witness pointed toward Heard. A raucous scene ensued in the hallway outside the courtroom, as police officers and sheriff's deputies swarmed to arrest the men, some of whom could be heard yelling at officers not to touch them.
Eric Safire, Heard's defense lawyer, said he had instructed the seven men -- all African American, like Heard -- to stand up. He said it was the only way to compensate for what was an unfair identification process, noting that Heard was dressed in jail-issue orange garb and seated at the defense table, making it too easy to pick him out. Safire's request that his client be allowed to don "street clothes" and sit in the gallery during the identification was denied by Superior Court Judge Wallace Douglass.
Swart declined to comment during the arrests, other than to say the men had been "detained" for "witness intimidation." He said the men were being held at Southern Station and that it would be up to police whether or not to charge them. Police assert that Heard is a member of the Central Division Posse street gang in the Western Addition.
The witness had flown to San Francisco from Texas. She was visiting the city on Nov. 25, 2008, when she claimed to have seen Heard with a gun at Broadway and Kearny, where Richard Barrett, 29, was shot. Police say Barrett was killed in an attempted robbery of a distinctive medallion he wore around his neck representing the character Bamm-Bamm from The Flintstones.
Photo | slappy427