For nearly a year, 64-year-old Kenneth Humphrey has sat in San Francisco County Jail, awaiting a trial. Today, after a bail hearing that drew swarms of media and a slew of supporters, he was finally granted permission for release.
Humphrey was arrested in May 2017 for allegedly stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne from a neighbor in his single-room-occupancy hotel. With a record of theft and assault dating back to the 1980s, Humphrey’s bail was initially set high: $600,000 — before being reduced to $350,000 after he agreed to undergo drug treatment. Far beyond his ability to pay, Humphrey has been stuck behind bars.
In the meantime, his case has become the center of a fierce battle between the San Francisco Public Defenders’ office, local judges, and the District Attorney’s office, and has run all the way up the ranks to the First District Court of Appeal. On Jan. 25, the court delivered a decision that requires detention hearings to be held for any low-income defendant given a high money bail. That action, it stated, is required by the U.S. Constitution.
It took another four months for Humphrey to get his moment in front of a judge. This week, Humphrey finally got his detention hearing. Petite in stature, he stood dressed in orange next to public defender Anita Nabah, who occasionally rested her hand on his shoulder while DAs Allison Macbeth and Courtney Burris made their case in front of the judge. Citing the fact that all of his prior crimes occurred while he was on parole, Macbeth and Burris called him a “danger to society,” and voiced concerns that if he was allowed to walk free until his trial, he’d be “a fox in a henhouse” at Golden Gate for Seniors, a residential recovery facility for seniors who’ve struggled with addiction.
But John Taylor, who manages the center, told the judge he’d interviewed Humphrey three times and thought it would be a good fit.
“In reality, we’ve had worse in our program and have had nothing but success,” he said.
An attempt by the district attorneys to bring the victim into court to speak against Humphrey’s release was squashed by the fact that he’s currently on rehabilitative bedrest. Nabah, reading a transcript of a recent conversation with the victim, stated that he told them “I’ve almost completely forgotten about it.”
“This is a decision today that needs to reverberate around the state,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi after the hearing concluded. “The judge went from a judge who sent an astronomical bail that Mr. Humphreys – and most people – could not afford, to releasing him into a program. This should be a template for what should happen across the state.”
Chesa Boudin of the Public Defender’s office had a good point: This all should have occurred a year ago. Judges should have been considering non-monetary alternatives to jail and high bonds for low-income people charged with a crime before this issue was taken to the First District Court of Appeal.
“Today after more than 11 months, Mr. Humphrey finally received a minimally adequate bail hearing, that met minimum constitutional standards, and he was ordered released,” Boudin said. “Had he been given that same constitutional bail hearing 11 months ago, he would have been released then, as well.”