After his defense team decided against calling any witnesses, the jury began deliberations in the trial of Jose Corvera, who is accused of shooting an imitation firearm at police officers after they approached him as he rode a bicycle on a Mission sidewalk.
The Aug. 6, 2022, incident concluded when Corvera surrendered, unharmed, following a 40-minute standoff during which police sprayed Shotwell Street with gunfire. Corvera is accused of twice firing a realistic faux firearm that shot blanks.
“I have no need to present a case,” Deputy Public Defender Kathleen Natividad told Mission Local on Monday afternoon. She determined that the prosecution’s case did not meet its burden of proof.
When it came time for Corvera’s defense attorney to present her case this morning, after three days of testimony from the prosecution’s witnesses, Natividad declined to call any additional witnesses — meaning that two additional officers who shot most of the dozens of bullets into a car and homes will not testify.
Several police officers, at least some of whom were subpoenaed by Natividad, stood outside the courtroom on Monday morning waiting to testify, but Natividad released them. Her only actions before resting her case were to submit new items, like surveillance videos and photos, into evidence.
Corvera was riding a bicycle and rolling another bicycle alongside on Aug. 6, 2022 when police attempted to stop him on Shotwell Street. Corvera fled, then pulled out a fake gun and pointed it toward officers, surveillance video shows.
He is charged with two counts of threatening a police officer, two counts of resisting arrest, and one count of brandishing an imitation firearm. Prosecutor Robert Perkins presented witnesses over the course of three days last week, including police officers and bystanders from the scene of the shooting.
Perkins argued that Corvera intended to “communicate a threat” in pulling out his imitation gun. “It was basically Mr. Corvera telling the officers: ‘Do not come near. Do not try to arrest me. Do not even try to get any closer,’” Perkins said in his closing arguments.
Although it was not real, Perkins said, the imitation gun was real in the minds of officers. Last week, a police officer testified that the orange tip on Corvera’s faux firearm had been redone to appear black, and that the fake gun emitted a muzzle flash nearly identical to a real gun. In short, it would have been difficult to realize in the heat of the moment that this was not the genuine article.
But in her closing arguments, Natividad said the district attorney had failed to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that the police officers who stopped Corvera in the first place were lawfully performing their duties. Without that element, Corvera cannot be found guilty on four of his five charges.
“Mr. Corvera … never submitted to that show of authority” from police,” Perkins said. “Instead, he escalated what would have been a normal routine traffic stop for these officers into an armed standoff.”
Natividad argued that the purported traffic stop for bicycling on the sidewalk and possession of a potentially stolen bicycle — which officers pointed to as their reasoning for stopping Corvera — were “contrived.” Natividad said that officers came up with those reasons after the fact. (In fact, Corvera was riding a rentable city bicycle and rolling his own bicycle, according to Natividad.)
For this reason, she said, she felt no need to present a case to jurors. Corvera did not take the witness stand.
“It is not standard practice of the police officers to stop all the humans who are biking on the sidewalk in San Francisco,” Natividad told the jurors. “The police might have the right to do that. But it is not the reason they did that.”
And Corvera, Natividad said, was reacting to what she referred to as a racially biased stop.
“He reacted to what the police did, in trying to stop him for nothing but being brown,” Natividad said to the 15 jurors and alternates, nearly all of whom are white.
Perkins objected repeatedly throughout Natividad’s statement. All of the objections were overruled.
Natividad noted that Officer Cain Schrachta, the rookie officer who was only weeks into the job, had never stopped anyone for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk before. Schrachta’s training officer, Officer Michael Rotschi, testified to having made such a stop only a few times in some 10 years on the police force.
Natividad also noted that testimony from Schrachta earlier in the trial about a woman having to step into the street, out of Corvera’s way, was fabricated. She pointed to surveillance video footage that showed no such woman.
And finally, she argued that the initial statements from Rotschi and Schrachta on scene were never recorded, because their sergeant ordered them to turn off their body-worn cameras when he arrived.
“I want you to turn your camera off — turn your camera off, don’t talk about this,” Sergeant Adam Plantinga can be heard saying on one officer’s body-worn camera.
“If you want to know what was said there — because that is closest in time [to] what they were thinking — that’s reasonable doubt,” Natividad concluded.
Perkins countered that officers were following police department policy in turning off their cameras before providing a statement. (Perkins and Natividad are referring to the brief “public safety statement” officers are required to provide on scene after a shooting. Later on, body-worn camera policy requires officers to provide a “initial statement” to investigators before viewing their own camera footage.)
“You might dislike Mr. Corvera’s reaction to what the officers did, his reaction to officers going up to him to try to stop him and detain him for no reason,” Natividad said. “You might not like that he had an imitation firearm … but that doesn’t matter.”
The jury is expected to continue its deliberations tomorrow.