Stay Away … Please

Can cops keep an accused drug dealer from roaming the Tenderloin?

When it comes to the politics of law enforcement, few parlor games are quite as popular among San Francisco's police officers, prosecutors, and elected officials as the Blame Game. As the city sinks under a rising tide of unsolved crime, the debate goes on: Police say bungling prosecutors and soft public-safety policies make their job tougher, supervisors point the finger at the mayor and a dysfunctional police department, and the district attorney's office talks about a judiciary that simply isn't willing to punish criminals. For Norris Robinson, this way of doing business is working out just fine.

Police say they arrested Robinson, an Emeryville resident, in the Tenderloin on the night of Nov. 14 with $800 in cash and 441 illegal prescription pills. He was booked on narcotics charges and has pleaded not guilty. Despite a request from the district attorney's office that Robinson be held on $90,000 bail, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Diane Wick has released him from custody — with no bail — as the trial proceeds. Since his arrest, Robinson and his signature silver Isuzu have been spotted back in the Tenderloin, enraging community activists and police officers who want a court order keeping him out of the crime-ridden neighborhood, at least until the narcotics charges are resolved.

“If this be the protection we can expect from our judiciary, the war we wage is multiplied by the blindness of justice,” San Francisco Police Capt. Gary Jimenez, who heads the Tenderloin police station, declared in his weekly community newsletter. Jimenez singled out Wick for postponing until March 23 a hearing on a potential “stay-away order” keeping Robinson out of the Tenderloin. If granted, the unusually broad order would keep Robinson not from an address or intersection — as is typical in stay-aways for narcotics defendants — but from the entire neighborhood.

“This particular defendant has come up numerous times in Tenderloin meetings,” says Assistant District Attorney Brian Buckelew, who follows crime trends in the Tenderloin and has handled parts of Robinson's prosecution. “This neighborhood deserves better.”

Robinson declined requests for comment through his lawyer, deputy public defender Christopher Hite. For his part, Hite says the DA's office is overreaching, and that there are any number of lawful activities that could draw his client to the neighborhood. “The theater district borders the Tenderloin,” Hite said. “There are a lot of normal stores and businesses that are in the Tenderloin.” On March 23, the judge will weigh in. In the meantime, keep an eye out for Robinson at Grease.

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