On September 2nd, 2009 Tisha Harvey lived a community member’s worst nightmare. On her way to pick up her daughter in the city’s Visitacion Valley neighborhood, she was pulled over by an officer claiming she ran the stop sign at the intersection of Rutland St. and Sunnydale Ave.
The officer proceeded to handcuff Harvey, throw her her to the pavement, and dig his knee into her back. She pleaded with the officer to explain his behavior, eventually calling out for bystanders to locate a community worker who could help her communicate with the officer. If the ordeal wasn’t enough, Harvey was later charged with battery and resisting arrest.
Harvey, a mother of two and teacher’s aide for disabled preschoolers, has no history of criminal infractions. At one point during the trial Harvey told the court that when the officer approached her she had a feeling that harassment and profiling were imminent.
Prosecutors asked if she felt this way because she was a black woman driving a new car.
“No,” she told the court. “Because I was a black woman in a poor black neighborhood driving a new car.”
Harvey was recently cleared of all charges in a trial that lasted just under one week. Jurors deliberated for less than a day after hearing testimony from witnesses as well a the police recording as Harvey pleads with the officer, asking why she was arrested.
Public defender Serena Orloff argued that the officer had fabricated the stop sign violation because he believed Harvey’s new 2008 Chevy Impala to be stolen.
The officer testified under oath that when he confronted Harvey she struck him in the chest, and later, while pinned to the ground, attempted to incite bystanders to attack him.
Witness accounts corroborated Harvey’s retelling, while there was apparently insufficent evidence to substantiate the officer’s claims.
In a conversation with the Appeal, Orloff says that she recognizes that an issue of race is inextricable from the incident, but does not necessarily believe the officer was a racist.
Instead, she says she feels the SFPD officer was a man “woefully out of touch with the people and the neighborhood he was sworn to protect.”
Due to the sensitive nature of the situation, Orloff spoke with a number of community members before the trial. One resident in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Orloff that she is currently working with Captain David Lazar to foster better communication and cooperation between residents and police officers. Their mission is bridge the longstanding gap between poorer community members and the officers who serve them.
Tisha Harvey is presently in cooperation with an Office of Citizen Complaint’s investigation into the arresting officer.
Update: Since we published this article we have learned that officer is identified through public record as Officer Ryan Hart.