If you want to see how the wheels of San Francisco justice spin right off their rims, say San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, check the case of Demetrius Spearman, a 37-year-old homeless methamphetamine user and petty thief who has 50 arrests in the past decade but few convictions and almost no jail time. Spearman never has been convicted of a “serious” crime — his rap sheet mainly consists of small-time break-ins and thefts — so he usually walks within days of his arrests. He’s an example of the nuisance criminal — never making headlines, but leaving countless victims in his wake.
One such victim was tennis instructor John Yandell, who had his car broken into and a bag of tennis equipment stolen three blocks from City Hall last month. As Yandell set out for a police station to report the crime, he spotted the thief. In a flash, the cops were there and arrested Spearman. The cops told Yandell that Spearman would probably be back on the streets in days, if not sooner. He was indeed back on the streets within two days. The release occurred because a police report inaccurately said he was arrested 12 hours after the crime. A prosecutor said Spearman’s long case history reflects both the guidelines state voters endorsed in 2000, when they approved Proposition 36 — mandating treatment rather than jail time for small-time drug offenders — and San Francisco’s unique drug court rules and lenient criminal justice standards.