A San Francisco defense attorney’s private investigator was arrested today for witness intimidation for allegedly telling a shooting victim and a lead prosecution witness in his attacker’s case last month that he would be arrested if he showed up to court to testify.
Police late this afternoon arrested investigator Steve Vender, who was indicted by a San Francisco Superior Court criminal grand jury on Tuesday on one felony count of witness intimidation, district attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew said. Bail was set at $75,000.
Vender worked with attorney Eric Safire on the defense of 19-year-old Philip Pitney in his trial for the attempted murder on Easter Sunday of this year of 21-year-old Ladarius Greer.
Safire himself was the subject of a separate witness intimidation probe earlier in October, but was never charged.
Greer was shot four times at about 9 a.m. on April 12 while standing at a bus stop on the corner of McAllister and Fillmore streets in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood. Pitney, a known gang member, was arrested a few days later.
In the days leading up to Pitney’s trial, Greer told police that Vender had been continuously calling him and trying to persuade him not to testify. Greer reportedly had a warrant for a probation violation out of Solano County, and was detained by San Francisco police on Oct. 9.
According to a transcript of a voicemail message, allegedly from Vender, that Greer played to police that day, Vender told him, “We went to court today and uh, the DA told the court that there is a no bail warrant out for you out of Solano County so uh, I thought I’d pass that along…”
Vender then allegedly told Greer that “it’s October and it’s a good time to visit … the Fresno Riviera.”
A few days after he played the recording to police, Greer failed to show up to testify at Pitney’s trial.
Despite Greer’s absence, however, the jury convicted Pitney on Oct. 29 of attempted murder, assault with a semiautomatic firearm and participation in a criminal street gang.
Pitney, a known member of the local Eddy Rock gang who was on probation for grand theft at the time of the shooting, now faces 50 years to life in prison, according to Buckelew.
“The negative impact of this fear and intimidation goes beyond the courtroom and the immediate victim,” Buckelew said of the charge against Vender. “It fundamentally undermines the promise of equal justice for everyone, everywhere.”
Vender could face up to three years in prison if convicted, according to Buckelew. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Monday.
On Oct. 6, Safire, representing accused murderer and gang member Charles “Cheese” Heard in trial, called on several of Heard’s associates, also alleged gang members, to stand up in the courtroom during the testimony of a woman who claimed she saw Heard fatally shoot another man outside a North Beach bar on Nov. 25, 2008.
The men stood up and faced the woman, flashing their gold-capped teeth. Safire claimed at the time that he merely wanted the witness to see that there were other people who matched her description of Heard, who also has a gold tooth.
The men were arrested outside the courtroom on suspicion of witness intimidation, but were later released without charge.
The witness resumed her testimony and said she was “100-percent certain” Heard was the gunman.
Prosecutors declined to file witness intimidation charges against Safire.