The following is based on remarks I made at a press conference earlier this week on Tuesday, Dec. 2, to announce the dismissal of felony vandalism charges against Vince Adame by the DA’s office. I did represent Mr. Adame in the final phase of the case.
By Frank Gormlie
The main editorial at the U-T San Diego today – Dec. 2nd – spoke of how San Diego has avoided another black eye what with the District Attorney’s dismissal of felony charges against Vince Adame, the hedge trimmer. The first black eye was the prosecution by the City Attorney’s office of the chalk drawer. So yes, San Diego has avoided another black eye.
This is all well and good, but what about Vince Adame’s black eye.
Vince Adame got a black eye, as he had to go to court, hire legal representation, go through felony booking at the downtown jail that lasted half a day, have his DNA taken, and his family has gone through quite a bit of stress since he was charged in October.
Yet Adame is happy that the DA has found the wisdom to dismiss this case.
Some background on Vince: he’s been a local property owner for 13 years, his wife’s family has lived in OB for over a hundred years, and they live close by the OB Pier.
Because they live close to the Pier, they see a lot of travelers and homeless in the immediate areas. The homeless and travelers camp out in the taller bushes, using the canopy for cover. For years, Vince has been cleaning up the area, picking up trash, cardboard, bottles left by people. Plus he has planted cactus and agave in the land around the pier and its parking lot – city-owned property. And he has trimmed the hedges.
The small slice of land that Vince was accused of abusing by damaging 5 New Zealand Christmas trees is City property. But the neighbor who complained told the police he thought the property was his. Yet the Park and Rec manager in the case didn’t even know it was city property and that his staff had to maintain it.
So Vince Adame has been maintaining it. He did call Park and Rec to complain and was told the bushes were on a maintenance schedule that may take up to two years to be completed. So he trimmed them – and he knew they’d grow back.
Near the end of July, a vindictive neighbor called the police to complain the Adame had been illegally cutting down bushes. This is something that neighbor has been doing himself over the years – some of it with Adame.
So there was a police investigation. Three reports were made. The first police report only charged him with misdemeanor vandalism. But then detectives were brought in, who visited 3 nurseries to get estimates, and who took lots of photos, and at first they misjudged the plants allegedly damaged, thinking they were bottle brush.
But no arborist was consulted until the end of the case, no expert was brought in to study what had happened and what was going to happen – like the hedges would grow back. So police figured that the highest estimate they got for a similar bush was over $600, so 5 times $600 gets them over $3,000 and Vince Adame is charged with felony vandalism. Any damage over $400 is considered a felony. So the case was bumped to the District Attorney’s office as the DA handles felonies in San Diego.
Some where during the investigation, police decided to press charges as a felony, and somebody in the DA’s office decided to file it as a felony.
Mr. Adame was arraigned and plead not guilty on October 24th and had to go through felony booking on November 11th. He still has to go back to court later this week.
And then the public caught wind of the absurd nature of the case.
After an OB Rag article came out, there was a good article in the U-T. Plus the U-T ran a poll asking readers whether they thought Adame’s prosecution was a waste of taxpayers’ money. Nearly 4,000 readers responded, and 96% said it was a waste.
After having the case for a month and a half, the DA’s office did finally decide to dismiss all charges without conditions. And this is very wise.
Somebody in the DA’s office figured out this was selective enforcement, as Adame was charged but not his neighbor. Vince had no malice when he trimmed the bushes – vandalism requires a “maliciousness”. He was trimming bushes that he knew would grow back – and they have grown back – you can see for yourself right here.
Vince cleans the area and city property around the pier. He picks up garbage and trash, and yes he trims hedges.
This case was a waste of taxpayer money, it is bad PR for the DA’s office and more.
If Adame had been successfully prosecuted, it would have sent a chill down the spine of any responsible citizen who comes out and paints over graffiti, who cleans up city or county property, or trims plants when no one else is doing it.
During the case, Adame was told he was not entitled to “self-help”. But what he did was not self-help, it was “help the community” – something OBceans do.
In an era of declining government and municipal services, people – ordinary citizens – step up and help their community. This is a strong tradition in OB.
It’s the “OB Way” – that’s why OB citizens paint over graffiti, that’s why people clean up and cut weeds at a community park, that ‘s why OBceans painted over the lifeguard station, that’s why people developed a garden on a vacant lot that was an eyesore.
That’s all that Vince Adame did.