An unusual case unfolded today in San Francisco Superior Court, as a judge-turned-jury member helped convict a man of biting a police officer–the same suspect who once appeared before him on a similar charge.

Miquel McNorton, 49, had been charged with felony battery on a police officer for an Aug. 18 incident in which he bit an officer’s wrist.

The jury today found McNorton not guilty of a felony, but guilty of misdemeanor battery, as well as of two misdemeanors of resisting arrest, according to district attorney’s office spokesman Brian Buckelew.

The case garnered media attention because one of the jurors, Superior Court Judge Bruce Chan, had handled McNorton’s case in July in which he pleaded guilty to the same reduced misdemeanor charge for an April 13 arrest for biting another officer in the Tenderloin.

McNorton was given credit for the three months he had served in jail and was released from custody on July 16. The next month, he was in custody again on the new case.
According to Buckelew, today’s conviction is the sixth for McNorton for biting a police officer. In total, he has been arrested for various alleged batteries on police officers 16 times between 1988 and this year.

When Chan was being considered for the jury in McNorton’s current case, he wasn’t directly asked about whether he had seen McNorton before and did not try to disqualify himself from sitting on the panel.

Trial Judge Kevin McCarthy took that to mean that Chan did not remember the case, and though prosecutor Victor Hwang moved to dismiss Chan from the jury because of McNorton’s prior appearance before Chan, McCarthy refused.

However, McCarthy, who did not allow evidence of McNorton’s previous cases to be introduced during the trial, today asked attorneys if they wanted to remove Chan. But both sides, including Hwang who initially asked for Chan’s dismal, declined.

“This was a serious injury,” Hwang told jurors in closing arguments today.

The injured officer, Michael Wolf, was one of several officers who responded to a report of a motorcycle being vandalized in the Tenderloin District.

McNorton, who ran when he saw the officers, was thrown onto the back of the police car and then brought to the ground. While the officers were trying to restrain him, he bit Wolf on his wrist. McNorton was then subdued with pepper spray.

Wolf’s puncture wound broke the skin and he was treated at the hospital with antiseptic, a tetanus shot and antibiotics, according to Hwang.

McNorton’s attorney Seth Meisels said the incident was “unfortunate,” but added, “It did not have to happen like this, at all.”

Meisels argued it was a case of excessive force by police, and that Wolf’s injury was not serious enough to constitute a felony.

“This bite is the act of a confused, frightened and desperate person,” Meisels said. “And why would he be so desperate? Because excessive force was being used.”

McNorton now faces the possibility of additional jail time, but no state prison, at his sentencing on Jan. 15, according to Buckelew.

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  • bloomsm

    Not a lot of lawyers would comment publicly on a judge’s decision. There is nothing in the law that prevents a judge from sitting as a juror, and if both sides are confident that the juror can be fair and impartial, that is adequate.

    If it were my client, I would have exercised a challenge. Typically you don’t want any jurors to know too much about a defendant before they deliberate. The outcome here tends to reinforce that impression. Expect an appeal on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel (failing to disqualify the judge who previously convicted you on a similar offense).