gaveldecision.jpgA San Francisco City College student was found not guilty of concealing a loaded firearm Thursday after it was discovered that police tampered with the crime scene, a spokeswoman for the public defender’s office said.

LaRon Johnson, 24, of San Francisco, was found not guilty of receiving stolen property, concealing a firearm in a vehicle, and concealing a loaded firearm, spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton said.

Johnson, a full-time student with no prior convictions, was parked on Bayview Street and had fallen asleep while waiting for his girlfriend, who was visiting a friend, his attorney, deputy public defender Jennie Otis said.

Officers claimed Johnson concealed an object when they knocked on his window. They searched his car and found a stolen handgun, which Johnson claimed he didn’t know was there, Aparton said.

Johnson told police that he had a small amount of marijuana in his pocket.

The officer documenting the crime scene admitted during the trial that he placed the marijuana next to the gun. This staging of the photographs – connecting the gun with the drugs – is unethical, Otis said.

“Police officers honestly documenting the evidence – that’s the cornerstone of having a fair trial,” Aparton said.

The evidence tampering led to a verdict of not guilty, Aparton said.

“He’s very relieved. He’s very happy to get on with his life,” Aparton said of Johnson’s response.

Johnson’s verdict comes less than a year after the acquittal of Wayne Lee Banks Jr., 26, on March 24, 2010.

Banks was also a City College student with no prior convictions who was acquitted after it was discovered that evidence had been compromised, Aparton said.

“We take tens of thousands of cases on each year, and in only a handful do we discover tampered evidence,” she said. “Still, it’s disturbing. A very small percentage of those tens of thousands go to trial, you have to wonder about those that didn’t go to trial.”

Erika Heidecker, Bay City News

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