The fate of a 64-year-old man jailed for nearly a year on a six-figure bail for stealing $5 and a bottle of cologne has the potential to change California law.
Social justice advocates say the case of Kenneth Humphrey should be a wake-up call for fixing the state's broken bail bond system.
But prosecutors paint a very different picture.
While both sides agree someone who is poor and low risk shouldn’t have to pay an unreasonable bail to remain free until trial, it’s not clear, based on what was presented in court Tuesday, that Humphrey is low risk.
The social advocates who showed up at the Hall of Justice in San Francisco, however, say the treatment Humphrey has received is anything but just.
"We see this happen to our folks, brown and black folks, all the time," said Amika Mota of Young Women’s Freedom Center SF. "Overcharged, sitting in jail, unable to pay."
The charges against Humphrey are first-degree residential robbery; a crime committed against the elderly or disabled; and a violent felony against the elderly.
District Attorney's Office spokesman Max Szabo says it's enough to justify the DA’s request for no bail.
"Our primary consideration is public safety," Szabo said. "We want to make sure that when people are released pretrial that we do so in a manner that is safe."
Prosecutors said it’s not just that Humphrey lied in wait for a 79-year-old neighbor at a senior facility and took his money and cologne, but that Humphrey threatened to smother the man with a pillow case.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi calls that accusation trumped up.
"If the district attorney believed for a second that any of these supposed threats were real, they would have filed what’s called a death threat charge," Adachi said. "That’s not done in this case."
As Humphrey supporters crowded the courtroom, a woman who identified herself as his girlfriend recoiled at the idea that Humphrey is a threat to public safety.
"He’s not like that," Judy Marshall said. "Very peaceful. Just quiet. And right now, being incarcerated for a year, he participates. He’s always there."
It was revealed in court Tuesday that Humphrey had a half-dozen convictions for robbery and assault in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s, but nothing in 11 years, until now.
The California Supreme Court will decide whether to take up the bond issue in Humphrey's case within the next three weeks.