Issue:  Vol. 45 / No. 17 / 23 April 2015
 

Castro groups vote to oppose Umpqua bank

A rendering of the proposed Umpqua Bank on 18th Street in the Castro

A rendering of the proposed Umpqua Bank on 18th Street in the Castro shows a new mural on the building’s side.

Most financial institutions looking to open in San Francisco’s gay Castro district can usually bank on facing opposition. Many residents and merchants say the neighborhood is already saturated with enough banks that create dead zones throughout the commercial corridor.

Umpqua Bank officials are finding this maxim to be true as they seek approval to open a Castro branch in the 18th Street storefront that now houses Magnet, the gay men’s health clinic, which is slated to relocate this summer to a new location around the corner on the 400 block of Castro Street.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted on its blog last November, the bank intends to reskin the 18th Street building, which is adjacent to a city parking lot, and upgrade the facade and entrance way. It also is proposing to work with the community to install a mural on the side of the structure fronting the parking lot entrance and possibly install a new structure for local organizations to post their posters.

To help activate the space during daytime hours, the bank has said it will welcome anyone who wants to use its lobby – with free coffee and Wi-Fi – as an office space to hold one-on-one meetings. It will feature works by local artists, highlight local merchants, and be available for community groups to use for events.

The bank is also looking to lease the second floor, which is not wheelchair accessible, to a Castro group in need of office space.

“This space is designed to welcome after hours community use of our space,” Lindsey Strange, Umpqua’s senior vice president – retail regional director for the Bay Area, told members of the Castro Merchants association at its meeting this morning (Thursday, April 2). “We will do that free of charge.”

Strange had hoped to win the business group’s support as the Portland, Oregon-based company seeks the required permits from the city’s planning commission. Yet the merchants overwhelmingly voted to oppose Umpqua’s conditional use permit request.

“We would be making a terrible mistake allowing a bank there,” said Terry Asten Bennett, whose family owns Cliff’s Variety.

Steve Adams, a regional senior vice president with Sterling Bank and Trust, said he would have no problem seeing Umpqua open on upper Market Street where his bank has a branch. Unlike with the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street, where there are a number of banks, the upper Market Street corridor has only a few banks.

“I am not against Umpqua coming into this neighborhood. It is the location,” said Adams, who serves on the San Francisco Small Business Commission. “There is all this empty space on upper Market. They need another bank up there.”

Andrea Aiello, executive director of the Castro / Upper Market Community Benefits District, announced at the meeting that the CBD’s board also voted to oppose Umpqua’s planned expansion in the Castro.

“We are doing this Castro retail strategy study and we are not finding anything that suggests we need another bank,” she said. “Banks are not driving foot traffic anymore because many people bank at home.”

One group that has voted to support Umpqua is the Castro / Eureka Valley Neighborhood Association, though its vote was not without “a lot of internal conflict,” remarked board member Mark McHale.

Strange said Umpqua looks at “where are people meeting” in a particular neighborhood when it determines branch locations. The company ruled out seeking a space on Castro Street but felt the soon-to-be-vacant storefront at 4122 18th Street would be a suitable fit.

“We feel our model does well in the heart of a neighborhood,” she said.

The bank’s hearing date before the planning commission has yet to be noticed.

— Matthew S. Bajko, April 2, 2015 @ 3:38 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Violent robberies reported in Castro, Tenderloin

San Francisco police are investigating recent violent robberies in the Castro and Tenderloin neighborhoods.

The most recent incident occurred in the Castro district, near 15th and Noe streets. At about 10:30 p.m. Monday, March 30, two men approached the two victims. One of the suspects pointed a gun at them and demanded their property, according to Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman. The suspects stole the men’s cellphones and fled on foot.

No description of the suspects was available. The victims, who are 26 and 22, weren’t injured.

Another robbery occurred in the Tenderloin neighborhood, which is well known for crime and poverty.

At 5 p.m. last Friday, March 27 near Turk and Taylor streets and the longtime gay bar Aunt Charlie’s, a woman brandished a handgun at another woman and demanded her property, Officer Grace Gatpandan, a police spokeswoman, said.

The victim, 32, “refused and attempted to walk away,” but the suspect grabbed her purse and dumped its contents onto the sidewalk, Gatpandan said.

As the woman tried to pick up her possessions, the suspect pepper-sprayed her, took her wallet, and fled the scene with the victim’s cash, wallet, driver’s license, and Social Security card.

The suspect was described only as a black female, age 19 to 20. The victim, who suffered irritation to her eyes and face, was taken to San Francisco General Hospital.

Another Castro robbery happened at about 2:30 a.m. last Monday, March 23.

In the incident, which occurred near 19th and Collingwood streets, a man was walking toward his car when two men came up behind him, grabbed him, and threw him against a wall, according to Esparza.

The suspects, who both appeared to be 25, demanded the 21-year-old victim’s property, took his belongings out of his pockets, and fled, Esparza said.

The victim’s cellphone, car key, driver’s license, and credit cards were taken, but he wasn’t injured.

No arrests have been reported in any of the incidents.

Anyone with information in the cases may contact police anonymously at (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411. Type SFPD in the subject line.

The case numbers are: 150281443 (15th and Noe), 150271121 (Turk and Taylor), and 150277141 (19th and Collingwood).

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 12:19 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Breaking: Man acquitted in ’11 Nob Hill murder case

Waheed Kesmatyer, acquitted in murder case.

Waheed Kesmatyer, acquitted in murder case.

A man was acquitted today (Wednesday, April 1) of murdering his older gay roommate in San Francisco’s Nob Hill neighborhood in 2011.

With their verdict, jurors indicated they believed that Waheed Kesmatyer, 28, who stabbed, beat, and strangled to death Jack Baker, 67, did so in self-defense after Baker raped and stabbed him, as the defense team claimed.

Outside the courtroom, one juror told the Bay Area Reporter that the prosecutor in the case didn’t show evidence to prove otherwise.

In his testimony last month, Kesmatyer said of Baker’s death, “It was a struggle. I was trying to get away. … I was just scared he might kill me.”

A paring knife had been broken off in Baker’s head, he’d been stabbed dozens of times, and there was an electrical cord tied around his neck.

Kesmatyer was charged with first-degree murder. Jurors also had the option of convicting him of second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter, but they opted against all charges.

He’s been in custody since his arrest in February 2011 and is likely to be released within the next couple of days.

The trial started in late February. Closing arguments were last week. Jurors deliberated for about two days before announcing their decision.

The B.A.R. will have more on this story in the Thursday, April 9 edition.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, April 1, 2015 @ 11:42 am PST
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Man robbed near Castro restaurant

A man was robbed in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood Tuesday night as he left a restaurant, according to San Francisco police.

The March 24 incident happened at 8 p.m. when the man, 19, was leaving a restaurant at 17th and Market streets and putting his wallet in his backpack, Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, said today (Thursday, March 26).

The suspect approached the man, shoved him, and grabbed his backpack before fleeing on foot, Esparza said.

Besides the victim’s backpack, his money and books were also stolen. The man wasn’t injured. Esparza didn’t disclose which restaurant the man had been leaving.

The suspect, described only as a black male in his 20s, hasn’t been arrested.

Anyone with information about the incident may call the police department’s anonymous tip line at (415) 575-4444. People may also text a tip to TIP411. Type SFPD in the subject line. The incident number is 150 262 675.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 26, 2015 @ 4:51 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


SF sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to fight, officials allege

Adachi 2

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. Photo: Seth Hemmelgarn

San Francisco sheriff’s deputies allegedly forced at least two inmates to fight each other and one of the deputies is suspected of threatening a male inmate with rape, Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today (Thursday, March 26) at a press conference with Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

Adachi and Mirkarimi said another agency would be asked to conduct an investigation. They couldn’t say how long the alleged fights have been happening or how many inmates may have been involved.

In a recent phone interview with Adachi, inmate Ricardo Palikiko Garcia said that deputies had forced him to fight and bet against him. Garcia said Deputy Neu, whose first name wasn’t immediately available, “told me he was what would happen if I didn’t fight, which was beating me up, cuffing me, and macing me.”

Garcia said he was made to fight Stanley Harris, another inmate.

“The first fight we were fighting, tussling, wrestling, and punching each other up until I got Stanley into a headlock, and then he eventually tapped out,” which ended the fight, Garcia said.

Harris told Adachi that Neu threatened him “sexually” in an “embarrassing” way.

“He’ll kinda tell me he’ll take my cheeks or something like that,” he said. When Adachi asked him what he understood that to mean, Harris said, “Like taking my ass or fucking me or something.” Neu was accused several years ago of sexually assaulting a male inmate, according to Adachi. (Recordings of Adachi’s interviews with the inmates, who are clients of his office’s, were played at a press conference today.)

The alleged incidents first came to the attention of one Adachi’s attorneys earlier this month when a client’s father reported the fighting.

Mirkarimi, who said he first learned of the reports from Adachi this morning, said the deputies allegedly involved have been reassigned, and he plans to invite the state Attorney General Kamala Harris or U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

The Bay Area Reporter will have more on this story in the Thursday, April 2 edition.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 2:43 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Gay SF officer linked to texting probe quits

Michael Robison on the cover of the Advocate in 1998. (Courtesy Here Media)

Michael Robison on the cover of the Advocate in 1998. (Courtesy Here Media)

The gay San Francisco police officer who allegedly participated in homophobic and racist text message exchanges has quit, Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, confirmed today (Friday, March 20).

As reported by the San Francisco Examiner, Michael Robison, who Esparza said had been on the force since 1992, quit Wednesday, March 18.

Robison and his attorney, Tony Brass, haven’t responded to the Bay Area Reporter’s interview requests.

The texts, most of which are race-related, recently came to light in documents filed last week in the federal court case against former police Sergeant Ian Furminger, who was convicted in December of stealing and other crimes.

According to the court filing, in one October 2011 exchange, Furminger wrote to at least one other officer, “I was trying to be nice to you as everyone knows your gay,” and “I love calling you a fag! Good enough?” The documents don’t specify which other officer was on the receiving end of that text.

Brian Getz, Furminger’s attorney, said the messages “express the opposite feeling” of what Furminger “felt, and therein lies the humor as he saw it in sending those messages.” He said the racist, homophobic sentiments expressed in the texts are also contrary to the other officers’ true feelings.

The Examiner reported that Robison is 46. He’ll be eligible to collect his pension at 55.

Esparza said with Robison’s departure, the department’s investigation of officers allegedly involved in the texting scandal is down to three.

Other officers have not yet been included in the probe, said Esparza.

Esparza declined to confirm the names of the officers under investigation, since it involves “personnel matters.” However, the others are reportedly Rain Daugherty, Michael Celis, and Noel Schwab.

The district attorney’s and public defender’s offices are reviewing cases in which the officers were involved.

None of the officers could be reached directly for comment, but Alison Berry Wilkinson, Daugherty’s attorney, said in an email that her client “is appropriately ashamed by his impulsive and insensitive banter, and accepts full responsibility for the content of those text messages that he sent, which are by no means a reflection of his true character or his style of policing.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 20, 2015 @ 4:19 pm PST
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Man who claimed sexual assault convicted in SJ murder

Murder defendant Vincent Gallegos

Murder defendant Vincent Gallegos

A San Jose man who claimed he stabbed another man in self-defense because the victim sexually assaulted him was convicted of murder this week.

Jurors announced Wednesday, March 18 that they found Vincent Gallegos, 22, guilty of second-degree murder in the March 2013 death of Errick Wright, 27.

According to to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, Gallegos testified during the five-week trial that Wright had “sexually accosted him” in a park restroom, and Gallegos said that after Wright “attacked him with a knife,” he “wrestled the weapon away to desperately fight off his attacker.”

But prosecutors said Wright had defensive wounds and other major injuries, while Gallegos wasn’t injured in the incident.

Gallegos faces 16 years to life in prison. His sentencing is set for May 22.

In a news release, prosecutor Lindsay Walsh said, “Twelve jurors concluded that the defendant’s story – which blamed and besmirched the victim – was not true. Their verdict holds Mr. Gallegos accountable for his violent murder and gives Mr. Wright’s family some small measure of solace.”

People walking in San Jose’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park March 6, 2013 saw Gallegos, who was “soaked” in blood, “yelling for help and saying someone had hurt his friend,” according to prosecutors. Wright, who’d been stabbed 20 times, was dead on the ground near a park restroom.

According to the DA’s office, Gallegos “had tried to tell witnesses and later police that he had simply found his bloody ‘friend’ lying” on trail in the park “and gone for help.”

But Gallegos later said that he’d stabbed Wright in self-defense.

Gallegos gave six different accounts of how he’d found Wright, prosecutors said. His backpack was found in Wright’s car, which was parked near the scene, and Wright’s car keys were located in a hole in a tree.

Jurors deliberated just five hours before returning their verdict Wednesday.

Alfonso Lopez, Gallegos’ attorney, said in an interview that the verdict was “somewhat surprising.”

Lopez held that Wright had sexually assaulted Gallegos in the bathroom, and his client, who’s straight, “should have got manslaughter at the most.”

He cited testimony from Gallegos and his therapist as evidence of the sexual assault.

“Mr. Gallegos is a good kid who was just caught up in something that was beyond something he could control,” said Lopez. “He didn’t know how to react in that situation.”

Lopez said he’ll file a motion for a new trial, because the prosecutor had withheld a witness.

He also said that during the trial, evidence was presented that Wright was “a very violent person who had just months before beat up a 17-year-old kid at the park,” and he also had been accused “several” times of domestic violence in incidents involving another man. The victim in the domestic violence cases testified during Gallegos’ trial, said Lopez.

“This case wasn’t about any homophobic acts,” he said. “It wasn’t about Mr. Wright getting stabbed because he’s gay. He sexually assaulted another person in the bathroom … It was the sexual assault that triggered the violence.”

Walsh didn’t respond to an interview request.

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 19, 2015 @ 6:56 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Former EQCA ED enters Palm Springs City Council race

Geoff Kors, the former longtime executive director of Equality California, announced Tuesday that he’ll seek a seat on the Palm Springs City Council in November.

(Palm Springs City Council candidate Geoff Kors. Photo: Rick Gerharter)

(Palm Springs City Council candidate Geoff Kors. Photo: Rick Gerharter)

“It’s an exciting time for our city,” Kors said in a March 17 email. “Palm Springs is undergoing a major and much-needed revitalization.”

Kors, 53, added that the decisions being made today “will have an impact for decades.”

“It is essential that we maximize this opportunity to grow our economy and do so in a sustainable manner that keeps what is special about Palm Springs,” Kors said. “It is also important that every member of our community participates in our success.”

Kors currently serves as the government and policy director for the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights. He led EQCA for nine years, instituting a rebranding for the statewide LGBT organization and growing its membership. He stepped down in 2011, saying he felt the time was right for him to do something different.

Kors was one of several executive committee members for the No on 8 campaign in 2008.

Palm Springs voters will elect a mayor and two council members November 3. The filing deadline for candidates is August 7.

Kors and his husband, Palm Springs school board member James Williamson, have lived in the desert city for several years, relocating from San Francisco after Kors stepped down from EQCA.

For more information about Kors’ city council race, visit his campaign website at www.geoffkors.com.

— Cynthia Laird, March 17, 2015 @ 3:09 pm PST
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Funds raised to help family of SF trans stabbing victim

Stabbing victim Taja DeJesus. Photo: Michelle Cornwell

Stabbing victim Taja DeJesus. Photo: Michelle Cornwell

Fundraising efforts are underway to help the family of Taja DeJesus, 36, the transgender woman who died in February after being stabbed in San Francisco’s Bayview district.

An Indiegogo campaign has a goal of providing $10,000 to help DeJesus’ family pay costs associated with her death. So far, just over $5,000 has been raised. The effort, a collaboration of San Francisco’s Trans March and other groups, started February 9 and ends March 11.

“Taja was a beautiful soul who was unapologetically unafraid to always be herself,” campaign backers said on their website. “She had an infectious energy that, combined with her sweet nature, made her a delight to everyone whose path she crossed.”

The campaign’s backers added that if they raise more than $10,000, the extra money would go toward a fund to assist with costs related to the deaths of other trans women of color.

“We hate that we know this fund will be necessary, but, unfortunately, we know it will be,” the backers said.

Citing unnamed police sources, SF Weekly reported days after DeJesus’ death that the man suspected of killing her had hanged himself. The medical examiner’s office has identified the man as James Hayes, 49, a “Bay Area resident.”

Officer Grace Gatpandan, a police spokeswoman, said today (Friday, March 6) that she couldn’t confirm whether Hayes was the man suspected of killing DeJesus, since evidence in the case is still being tested. The investigation into DeJesus’ death, which police are not considering a hate crime, remains active.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, March 6, 2015 @ 6:09 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Defendant in Castro fight case has outburst in court

Matthew Clark Jorgensen (Photo: SFPD)

Matthew Clark Jorgensen (Photo: SFPD)

A man who was arrested after a recent fight in San Francisco’s Castro district had an outburst in court this week as his public defender tried to get him released from custody.

Police arrested Matthew Clark Jorgensen, 34, Sunday, March 1 after an 11:25 p.m. incident in the 100 block of Hartford Street in which he allegedly pushed over a 38-year-old man. The man, who “hit his head on the ground,” then “exchanged a few punches” with Jorgensen, according to police.

Jorgensen, who’s in custody, appeared Thursday, March 5, in superior court before Judge Tracie Brown for a hearing on the district attorney’s motion to revoke the three-year probation term he’d received in July in a domestic violence case. A bench warrant had been issued for him in December and it appears that he’d recently been in jail again.

Deputy Public Defender Paul Myslin denied the allegations against Jorgensen and requested he be released on his own recognizance.

Sunday’s fight isn’t related “to any domestic violence conduct,” said Myslin, and it wasn’t clear the victim had been injured, although there was a “complaint of pain.”

After Assistant District Attorney Sharon Bacon opposed releasing Jorgensen, citing “public safety reasons,” the defendant decided to speak up for himself.

“I called 911,” Jorgensen said repeatedly and loudly. “I was the one who called 911.”

Brown asked him to stop talking. Criminal defendants rarely speak in court unless they’re asked to.

Bacon said Jorgensen had pushed the victim “so hard,” he’d hit his head and had been taken to the hospital. Brown said she was “not inclined to release” Jorgensen, based on how recent the latest incident had been, among other factors.

Jorgensen, who apparently wanted to be reimbursed for recent travel to San Francisco from southern California, where he also has a criminal history, said, “Give me my money back.”

“Mr. Jorgensen, you need to be quiet,” Brown told him. She then set his bail at $500,000.

Myslin protested that amount, saying the nature of Sunday’s incident constitutes a lower figure, and Jorgensen can’t afford the amount Brown set.

But Brown said, “Given the history of what we have here,” and the violent nature of this weekend’s fight, “I don’t think it’s high.”

Jorgensen again weighed in, telling Myslin, “I called 911″ and making a remark about a police officer and his son. It wasn’t clear what he was referring to.

“You’re not helping your case,” Myslin told his client.

He then said that Jorgensen had been “having issues with his hand,” and a March 11 hearing was set to discuss the defendant’s physical and mental condition. A supplemental report related to the motion to revoke probation is set to be heard March 26.

As Thursday’s hearing concluded, Jorgensen repeated his comment about the police officer and his son.

Reverend River Sims, a gay preacher who helps homeless youth in San Francisco, said in a phone call to the Bay Area Reporter that he’s known Jorgensen for almost 20 years.

“He’s a pain in the ass,” said Sims, but “I fed him. I’ve taken care of him.”

Jorgensen “is a sweet kid,” he said, but he can be “volatile, especially when he’s on drugs.” Sims doesn’t know what Jorgensen’s sexual orientation is but said he’s “mostly been with girls.” (Officials haven’t said what the sexual orientation of the other man involved in Sunday’s fight is.)

The younger man has stayed in San Francisco’s Haight, Tenderloin, Mission, and other neighborhoods, but “Matt wears out his welcome wherever he is,” said Sims, who added, “One of these days my fear is he’s going to hurt someone.”

Sims said Jorgensen’s parents have tried to support him, but he’s refused their help.

A woman who answered the phone at a number listed in court documents for Jorgensen declined to comment.

Court records from Ventura County say that Jorgensen has pleaded guilty to drug-related charges and petty theft in cases stemming from 2011.

In court Thursday, Myslin said Jorgensen had recently been released from custody, and he indicated his client had tried to contact probation staff, but he’d been “stymied” by Ventura Count law enforcement officials.

The B.A.R. wasn’t able to catch up with Myslin as he left the courtroom Thursday, and he hasn’t responded to a phone message.

Last July, Jorgensen pleaded guilty to a felony domestic violence charge in San Francisco in exchange for felony counts of making criminal threats, false imprisonment, dissuading a witness from testifying, and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm being dismissed, according to court records.

The imposition of his sentence was suspended July 29 and he was ordered to serve three years of probation.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 3:12 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


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