District Attorney George Gascon wanted to charge Reza Eslaminia with felony vehicular manslaughter for allegedly killing a pedestrian when his cab ran a stop light last year. Because of a flawed police investigation, though, Gascon will have to settle for a misdemeanor charge.
But not even that will come easy. On March 29, Gascon issued an arrest warrant Eslaminia -- who had been convicted of murder in 1988 before getting freed on appeal -- but SFPD has been unable to locate him. Gascon suspects he's fled town.
"Given his arrest record and the fact that he is no where to be found, this is an individual who is dangerous," said Gascon, who at a press conference today asked the public for help in locating Eslaminia. "We do not believe Mr. Eslaminia is in the immediate area."
That arrest record includes being charged with murdering his own father in 1984. As the Chronicle explained his past:
Eslaminia belonged to a crew of high-living investment swindlers, known as the Billionaire Boys Club, who were convicted in the 1980s of murdering Eslaminia's father during a botched kidnapping and extortion attempt.
All along, Eslaminia insisted he was innocent. His life sentence conviction was overturned more than a decade ago by an appeals court that said the jury had improperly been shown a video.
Eslaminia was released in 2000. He eventually became a taxi driver for Luxor cab. And on August 11, 2012, prosecutors claim, he ran through a red light at the intersection of Eddy and Larkin streets. A bus hit the back of the cab, causing it to spin out and crash into 39-year-old Edmund Ralph Capalla, who was crossing the street -- "clearly walking within the law," Gascon said. Capalla, who had three children, had been celebrating his daughter's first birthday earlier in the day.
Police arrested and booked Eslaminia that night. But potentially crucial bits of evidence may have been overlooked in the early stages of the investigation. Initially Gascon stated that "I don't want to go into second guessing the investigation at this point." But, when asked what he would have wanted to see if he were police chief, the former San Francisco police chief listed a few things: taking a blood test, to determine if Eslaminia was under the influence of anything; getting video footage from more nearby establishments that night; finding additional witnesses at the scene.
But none of that happened, which "presents problems for us," Gascon said.
The main problem is that his office does not have enough evidence to meet the "gross negligence" standard that makes the crime a felony. Gross negligence requires prosecutors to prove that the accused violated multiple laws. With the available evidence, however, the can only slap Eslaminia with running the red light.
"There was a "collection of different pieces of evidence we needed to prove gross negligence," Gascon said. "We don't have that."
The charges came more than seven months after the collision, because the DA's office had been working with accident reconstruction experts "to cobble together evidence in this case."