A 24-year-old man is "tasting freedom" after a San Francisco jury acquitted him of selling heroin to an undercover officer and then snacking on $20 in city funds to destroy evidence, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.
It took the jury less than four hours to decide Carlos Vasquez was not guilty of felony heroin sales and destruction of evidence. If convicted, Vasquez was looking at eight years behind bars.
The construction worker was arrested Nov. 9, 2012 during a police "buy-bust" operation targeting drug dealers in the Mission District. Police said that a decoy officer asked to buy $20 worth of crack cocaine from Vasquez who stood with his girlfriend on Mission Street between 16th and 17th streets. Police said Vasquez upped the ante and instead offered to sell heroin to the incognito cop.
After the deal was allegedly done, the decoy cop walked away, signaling 11 other officers who took Vasquez into custody, according to the Public Defender's Office.
But confounded police found no money and no drugs on Vasquez -- even during a subsequent strip search. One of the cops claimed that after flashing his badge, Vasquez masticated and swallowed the $20 bill in seconds.
During the three-day trial, his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Michelle Tong, argued that Vasquez was the victim of mistaken identity, and here's why:
While officers were watching Vasquez, they failed to describe his physical appearance or clothing, Tong said. "There were no pictures, no audio or video, no witnesses, no DNA and no description in the dispatch tape or computer system. Police offered no testimony or evidence that they arrested the right man," she added.
Vasquez took the stand where he explained that he was shocked and upset by the whole incident, which he said occurred in front of his girlfriend's residence. Vasquez said he and his girlfriend had just eaten lunch in the neighborhood and he was having a cigarette in front of her building when the cops descended on him.
Tong also questioned the officer's blow-by-blow of how Vasquez devoured the $20 bill.
Per the Public Defender's Office:
The officer testified that Vasquez lifted the bill to his mouth with an open palm. Vasquez, with the partially crumpled bill hanging halfway out of his mouth, then allegedly started chewing while staring at the officer calmly and defiantly. All of it happened, the officer testified, in the split second it took him to travel 10 feet to arrest Vasquez. The officer further testified that Vasquez turned his head as he was arrested, which was when the officer assumed Vasquez swallowed the money. Officers did not attempt to open Vasquez's mouth to retrieve the city funds.
Then during the trial, Tong put a $20 bill in her mouth, showing jurors the space it would take up and the how difficult it is to actually chew and swallow money in seconds.
This performance convinced the jury that the wasted money was not in his stomach, rather in the police sting operation itself.