The waters of New York’s Central Park have served numerous films as the backdrop for romantic boating scenes. Our West Coast version would be Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake. Tourists, families, and couples have escaped to this tranquil spot for more than a century to climb Strawberry Hill, rent a paddleboat, or quietly meander around the lake.
On a February weekday, René (a pseudonym) was photographing the various species of ducks—there are eight or more—that briefly vacation every winter at this serene urban oasis. René, an award-winning photographer, had his $13,000 Canon camera with a large telephoto lens perched on a $1,000 Manfrotto carbon tripod. He pointed his camera northeast to capture what he calls the “golden hour of winter’s afternoon sun rays illuminating the waterfowl happily feeding and lounging on the lake.” He was physically attached to his camera by a lanyard.
The sunny silence and soft quacking was interrupted with Gilbert’s (also a pseudonym) calmly spoken demand: “Let go of the camera, we have a gun.” As Gilbert pulled the camera, René worried that the lanyard’s taut connection to his camera kit would cause the robber to think he was resisting.
René said the whole episode was surreal and that he never saw the huge accomplice, Hakeem, who stood behind him with the gun. Hakeem was also seen snatching a $3,000 telephoto lens resting on René’s suitcase.
Only moments before, Jim and Brian, both from Chicago, had been conversing with René. Believing that René was being robbed of his camera equipment, Brian yelled at Gilbert and Hakeem. Jim started to approach in an attempt to intervene, but while Gilbert was unlatching the lanyard, Hakeem pointed a gun at him and then at Brian. Jim said he is familiar with firearms and recognized Hakeem was holding a Glock with an extended magazine.
Gilbert and Hakeem ran to a waiting BMW and jumped into the back seats, and the car sped off. Despite having a gun pointed directly at him only seconds before, Jim had the composure to take three photos of the fleeing BMW.
SFPD arrived to find René in shock and badly shaken. Jim provided the SFPD officers with the photos of the BMW’s license plates and described Hakeem as a “big fat guy.” SFPD immediately used Jim’s photographs to create a regional bulletin on the robbery vehicle.
Within a matter of hours, the Antioch Police department found the BMW, registered to an Antioch address, and Hakeem, a resident of Antioch, as the BMW’s sole occupant. The BMW had several bullet holes on the driver’s side—which disproves San Francisco progressives’ narrative that property crimes are not violent.
SFPD inspectors immediately drove to Antioch to interview Hakeem, who weighs 280 pounds and matched Jim’s description of a “big fat guy with a Glock.” On the rear seat of the BMW, the inspectors found René’s Manfrotto tripod and his Canon lens cover.
After being Mirandized, Hakeem told officers that he and his crew drove to Golden Gate Park with the intention of only breaking into cars. He said that the robbery was not his idea, and he merely “stood by the vehicle” while the robbery went down. Jim, Brian, and René all stated they saw just two men outside of the BMW. Thus, Hakeem’s story of the events essentially creates an additional participant corroborated by none of the three witnesses.
On Hakeem’s cellphone, SFPD inspectors found photographs of René’s photography equipment taken only 10 minutes after the robbery. Hakeem said the two other accomplices sold the cameras at 24th and Mission Streets, and that he did not receive the money. Most likely the photographs were sent ahead of time to a person acting as a fence.
DA DROPS THE BALL
The evidence against Hakeem was basically packaged with a bow on top. And, if the above facts weren’t enough to convince you of Hakeem’s disreputable character, consider again that he weighs 280 pounds and René does not possess complete mobility. Basically, Hakeem is a poster child of cowardice.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office “filed” the case as he constantly brags that he does on thousands of other cases. But “filing” should not be misconstrued as “prosecuting” and can be translated as: Boudin didn’t reject the case at first glance.
The day after the robbery, Patricia Cuellar of the DA’s Victim/Witness Division contacted René to inquire what his objectives were. The Victim/Witness program mitigates prosecution through reimbursement for economic loss, but not for a victim’s permanent emotional trauma. René stated his objective was to regain “peace and calm” and to avoid testifying in front of Hakeem. René said he was told by the DA’s office that the SFPD officers could handle the testifying portion of the case for him, without clarifying that by him not testifying, his case against Hakeem was effectively dead.
René sent a letter to Richmond Station commending the work of the SFPD officers and Cuellar’s victim’s advocacy. That is, René told me, he complimented Cuellar in a letter to SFPD because the demarcation between law enforcement’s work and the Victim/Witness Division’s function was never explained to him.
For René’s case, Boudin assigned a career public defender, Leah Abraham, to prosecute Hakeem. While attending UC Hastings Law School, Abraham clerked for public defender’s offices in San Francisco, Marin, and Alameda. Upon graduating, she spent the next 7 years in the Alameda County Public Defender’s office, before joining Boudin’s public defender-centric office in March 2020.
The California Penal Code defines robbery as: “the felonious taking of property in the possession of another, against his will, and accomplished by means of force or fear,” which clearly represents Hakeem’s actions. Yet, on April 6, Abraham participated in a negotiated settlement to allow Hakeem to plead to a misdemeanor noise violation (CPC 415(2)) defined as “Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise.” It is unconscionable that Boudin’s office believes a “noise violation” applies to this clear robbery with a gun!
Boudin constantly misleads the public with his two most frequent phrases: “I filed over 4,000 cases” and “I will take action.” Boudin did “file a felony” in this case, but then he had his career public defender associate “take action” by kissing-off an armed robbery to a noise complaint offense—a violation that literally could have been handled by SFPD issuing a traffic ticket to Hakeem.
It’s the criminals that demonstrate their understanding of “filing” and “taking action” by traveling 50-miles, from Antioch to Stow Lake, to be accommodated. Boudin’s lack of prosecution has effectively spawned a criminal tourism industry.
René said he had originally informed the DA’s office, “I will trust your judgement in meting out justice on my behalf.” When I told René that the DA gifted Hakeem a noise complaint violation, he told me, “I wish I didn’t know that. I assumed Hakeem was in jail.”