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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Accused Arsonist's Lawyer Peeved at Cops Repeatedly Tying His Client to S.F. Car Fires

Posted By on Thu, Nov 12, 2009 at 7:30 AM

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Yesterday we reported that San Francisco Police arson Inspector Jeffrey Levin still considers 62-year-old homeless woman Fafa Chan to be the prime suspect in this summer's string of car fires. "I'm convinced that she did [it]," he told SF Weekly. In the meantime, as we've pointed out before, pinning every last fire on Chan would require the homeless woman to light a car ablaze and then ride the 38 Geary nearly five miles down the road and light two more cars on fire 15 minutes later -- at a time when the bus isn't running so regularly.

Chan's lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Matt Rosen, isn't buying it. "Hypothetically, even if she was responsible for some of those fires -- and I'm not conceding that at all -- there's no way she's responsible for all of them," he says. "It's just not possible."

More than that, however, Rosen is displeased that the police have repeatedly told the press that Chan is their prime suspect in the summer's car arsons, despite the fact that the SFPD admittedly does not have enough evidence to file charges against her in those cases. Instead Chan is facing a count of arson for a structure fire that was set in April (Rosen notes that the second structure fire incident mentioned by police has been dismissed). And the lawyer feels that the frequent coupling of Chan's memorable moniker and the headline-grabbing car fires might have made it impossible for a potential local jury to handle her unrelated arson charge.

"I think it does adversely affect her ability to get a fair trial here in San Francisco on the structure fire allegation when police keep repeating over and over that she's the prime suspect in these car fires," he said. "Her name is a bit memorable. And jurors will say 'I remember her. She did those car fires but they couldn't get her on it.'"

While Levin told SF Weekly that there is some "evidence" tying Chan, a convicted arsonist, to at least one car fire, he noted that there isn't enough to bring charges against her. Rosen wondered what the holdup is all about. "In terms of crime scene investigation, some of this is high-tech and some of it is not," he says. "Why wouldn't a prosecutor charge a particular individual? It's either politics or they don't have the evidence, and I think it's the latter. This isn't anything to do with politics. This is no senator's son."

While the April arson incident was caught on surveillance tape, Rosen is not ready to concede the woman on tape lighting a fire at 100 First Street is Chan. And he also disputes that this fire constitutes "arson."

"Arson is an act of malice, like vandalism," he says. "In this case, it was a corporate building and the surfaces we're talking about were a concrete sidewalk and a pillar faced with either granite or marble. There was no damage. If you were to light a fire in the middle of the sidewalk in the financial district, you could potentially be charged with a misdemeanor or an infraction. That's likely where this case is heading."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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