Bayview man who filmed cops convicted

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Fly Benzo, aka Debray Carpenter, speaks at a press conference
PHOTO BY BILL CARPENTER

In a case that has gained notoriety in San Francsico, Debray Carpenter, also known as Fly Benzo, was convicted Feb. 22 of two misdemeanors.

Benzo was filming the police with his cell phone camera at the time of his arrest. Videos of his arrest are available online.

Video evidence

Benzo was arrested at an Oct. 18 rally. During that incident, police officers John Norment and Joshua Fry of the Bayview precinct apparently unplugged a boombox that they said was not authorized in a street outlet. Then, when officers began videotaping Benzo, he took out his camera phone and began videotaping them as well. Witnesses report that police told Benzo to get the camera “out of my face.”

According to transcripts of three videos of the incident, police told Benzo "back up" and "don't put your hand in my face." Benzo claimed his right to stand “where I want to stand” and to film the police. Other individuals near him at the time objected to police orders for Benzo to “stand back,” saying, “he didn’t even touch you though” and asserting that Benzo had done nothing wrong.

After a minute or so of back and forth, Officer Fry stated “Don’t put your hand – You know what? Put your hands behind your back.” At that point, the video shows four officers converging to detain Benzo and knocking him to the ground.

The assault in question occured after Benzo was detained.

"[Benzo] was moving himself from side to side. He didn't want to get knocked to the ground. During that incident, Officer Fry scraped his elbow and that's the alleged assault," said Severa Keith, Benzo's attorney.

The jury convicted Benzo of misdemeanor assault rather than felony, citing insuffient evidence that Officer Norment had suffered a concussion after the incident.

Trial by jury

Benzo’s trial concluded Feb. 22. The jury found Benzo not guilty of felony assault of a police officer, but did convict him of three misdemeanors. Benzo was convicted of “resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer in his or her lawful duties” (California Penal Code Section 148 A1) and misdemeanor assault committed against a peace officer (Section 241 C).

Assistand District Attorney Omid Talai emphasized that  “Benzo was convicted by a jury of his peers.” The jury spent four days deliberating the case.

“The jury obviously took this very seriously and went through each element of the defense. They said they’d watched the videos numerous times,” said Talai.

But some supporters have raised doubts about the jury, partly because there were no African American jurors.

“He did not get indicted by a group of his peers,” said Tracey, a comrade of Benzo’s from the Black Star Liner Coalition. The Coalition is a CCSF student club aimed at improving the relationship between the college and its surrounding community.

Benzo has said that he was consistently harassed by police, including Norment and Fry, for several months prior to the incident.

Keith says she had several witnesses ready to testify to this harassment at the trial.

"These officers would sometimes flip him off, there were a couple of officers who would go by him and hold up the black power fist in a mocking way. There was testimony of how these officers had threatened him," said Keith.

However, prosecutors successfully exluded all evidence concerning previous incidents between Benzo, Norment and Fry with a pre-trial motion

According to Keith, "We had a really good and very thoughtful jury. But they were not given the chance to understand all the aspects of what happened that day."

She added that jurors were permitted to write questions to ask witnesses, and several jurors used this tool to attempt to ask about previous incidents between the officers and the defendent in order to better understand the motives of all parties. These questions were not answered due to the pre-trial motion.

"A lot of middle class people hear stories about the way that people in poor black neighborhoods experience the police, even on a day to day basis when nothing out of the ordinary had occured, and they don't believe it because it's so different form their experiences. Or they don't want to believe it because they don't want to believe that people get treated that way, or that police act that way," said Kieth.

Troubled history
Benzo is known for speaking out against issues of police harassment in the Bayview, including the killing of Kenneth Harding. Harding, 19, was shot by police in August 2011. Harding was leaving a T train when police asked to see his transfer, a two-dollar value. Harding presumably panicked and ran away from the police. Officers shot at him as he ran. Police have claimed that Harding produced a gun and, while running, shot behind himself at police, and that it was his own bullet that killed him.

Police then approached and surrounded the fallen Harding and prevented others from approaching him. After 30 minutes, the young man had bled to death. A video of his death has since circulated widely on youtube.

Harding’s death sparked an upsurge in the continued outrage over police violence and racist disparities in law enforcement tactics.

Many of Benzo’s supporters feel that his convictions impinge on first amendment rights, and feel that the convictions are unjust.

But Benzo, a CCSF student and musician, is also trying to spend time taking care of his life responsibilities.

“[Benzo] is a college student. He’s doing what he needs to do, and going to school,” explained Tracey.

Benzo is scheduled for sentencing April 20, to be decided by Judge Jerome Benson. Each misdemeanor could carry a year in county jail.

Kieth is considering appealing the verdict.

Comments

Jurors have the law explained to them and have to follow the judge's instructions. They can't just make up whatever they want.

Anyway, whenever I have attended jury duty there have been very few blacks - maybe one or two percent. You can't cram a jury with blacks, OJ-style, if none show up.

I don't think these crimes were that serious, and misdemeanor convictions are probably appropriate. But the guy was dumb.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

That's "appropriate" to you? Are you out of your mind? "Assault" is what the cops did to HIM.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2013 @ 9:12 am

the defendant could have copped a plea and maybe have gotten just 3-4 months.

He took his chances with a jury and lost. I'd have given him a year as well and am comfortable with that sentence. Interfering with police is a serious offense and a message needs to be sent loud and clear.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2013 @ 10:09 am

As Tina said in her editorial in the Bay Gaurdian a mere two weeks ago, this was a clear-cut case of police brutality and racial prejudice.

He was mindin his own business on the sidewalk. What? A man does not have a right to mind his own business on the sidewalk if he so chooses to do so?

The film shows a clear case of brutality. And what? No African-American jurers were allowed to "judge their own peers." Isn't that what a jury is supposed to be? Peer judgement?

Apparently nothing has changed in Amerikkka.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

So that no black ever gets convicted? We saw how that went down with OJ.

The law is the same for all races. Your thinking in shrouded in old-style prejudice. The rest of us have moved on, and abhore the playing of the race card.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

Every person who serves on a jury brings his or her personal experience into the room, which is why you want a diverse jury. You don't think that African-Americans in SF have different experiences with the police than white people do? If the credibility of a cop interacting with a young black man is one of the issues in the case, I think it's entirely appropriate to say that a jury with no African Americans won't have the same understanding of the circumstances.

Posted by tim on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

felony convictions which means they can't serve on juries anyway. so any more than one black on a jury isn;t diversity - it's packing the jury in an attempt to subvery justice because blacks are far more racist than any other racial group, and never go against their own.

The OJ trail should tell you everything you need to know on that subject.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

think differently. But they do not, and in fact it was thinking like that that led to slavery i.e. the idea that blacks are different.

Presumably you were looking for the "OJ effect" huh?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 03, 2013 @ 10:07 am

What a crock of dung from this writer and the attorney for Benzo.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 6:42 pm

IF YOU THINK JUST BC YOU FEEL LIKE IT THAT YOU CAN ERASE 2000+ YEARS OF RACISM JUST LIKE THAT YOU ARE TRIPPING! OK MAYBE OJ WAS GUILTY BUT ONE BLACK MAN GETTING OFF FOR MURDER DOESN'T EVEN BEGIN TO EVEN THE SCORE. YOU WANT TO MAKE IT FAIR? THEN YOU AND ALL "WHITE" PEOPLE WOULD HAVE TO BE ENSLAVED FOR HUNDREDS OF YEARS. THEN WE WILL CALL IT "EVEN STEVEN". YOU WILL NOT OUT LIVE YOUR HISTORY AND NO YOU HAVEN'T EVEN BEGUN TO PAY FOR YOUR CRIMES! IN FACT YOU GOT OFF SCOTT FREE...

ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL, I THINK THE MOST SERIOUS ISSUE HERE WAS THAT THE CONTEXT TO UNDERSTAND THE CASE FULLY WAS STRIPPED (I.E., EVIDENCE OF PRIOR INTERACTIONS WAS NOT ALLOWED).

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

CALM DOWN, BLACK PANTHER

Posted by Guest on Mar. 02, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

shows what the author is up to and makes everything else in the blog suspect.

"Police have claimed that Harding produced a gun and, while running, shot behind himself at police, and that it was his own bullet that killed him."

There is really no good reason to take anything in the blog at face value after reading such carefully bullshitted prose. No reason to believer anything in the article if this is the way the subject "Fly Benzo" looks at the world.

Ballistics isn't a science, just like global warming is a hoax, eh progressives?

Laughable FOX news propaganda.

Posted by matlock on Mar. 02, 2012 @ 3:23 am

The issue is whether in a supposedly free country, does someone have the right to film the police and stand their ground free from being arrested for no reason?

Posted by Greg on Mar. 03, 2013 @ 9:16 am

I grew up in LA and all I saw was complete racism from BLACKS. Do I have racism against blacks for this? No, I do think black people need to check themselves. Many are out of complete control, mobs attacking people, whites almost all. Many black men and women think they can say slavery makes it OK. Well, first off most people DID NOT own slaves the ones that did had money to do this, because it was expensive. Was it right? of course not, but remember these slaves were bought by mostly black slave traders in Africa, not poor whites. But we all know slavery was evil, no one in thier right mind does. But, the people today using salvery as some excuse to commit crime, or think there needs to be a payback well we can all impose this standard, no culture is innocent.
But the real issue is blacks are just as racist as other people, so anyone that says if the jury was only more diverse then it would be fair means if we had more of our own kind he would be found innocent, if this is the case then every jury should reflect the color of the accused. Because every race is racist, because everyone relates to their own better than other cultures. from my personal experience just speaking for myself, I have known many, many more black racists than white. Even so, I do not prejudge all blacks. But I do use caution from experiences with them.

Posted by John on Mar. 03, 2013 @ 1:37 am

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