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Are Judge Begert’s Mental Health diversions a deterrent?

Is life in an exclusive Piedmont neighborhood disconnected from SF’s streets?


Since publication of this story:

1) Judge Bergert rescinded Mendez’s diversion

2) Reinstated criminal charges on Mendez

3) The rescinded diversion “without prejudice” is a temporary condition.

4) Begert’s assistant asked for an update of facts that occurred after publication.

• • • • • • • • • • December 20, 2023 • • • • • • • • • •

Lou Barberini
Lou Barberini

On the 17th of June, police communications broadcast a car break-in in progress at Hickory Street and Van Ness Avenue.[1] Upon arriving, SFPD officers found Mendez sitting in the front seat of a vehicle. When officers attempted to investigate, Mendez exited the car and started swinging a metal chain like a lasso.

As the video documents, Mendez attacked one officer with the metal chain wrapping around the officer’s leg. The officer fell to the ground — an even more vulnerable position. A citizen filming Mendez’s attack on SFPD from this second angle (at the 32-second mark) had to end his filming because he felt the need to run for his own safety. Despite the aggravated assault with the deadly weapon and the potential danger of further serious physical injuries to officers, SFPD eventually arrested Mendez, employing a minor use of force.

Voluntary mental health diversion does not hold criminals accountable

After the Mendez arrest, he was held in custody. Over two consecutive court dates (August 16-17, 2023), per transcripts, SF public defender Eric Fleischaker argued that “Mr. Mendez is appropriate for mental health diversion.” Assistant District Attorney Samantha Adhikari, through an assistant district attorney substituting for her, agreed to the release to the Harbor Lights Residential Treatment Program.

Judge Rochelle East clearly articulated to Mendez that he would be released to the Harbor Lights program with an ankle monitor and “he’s required to stay in that program at Harbor Lights except for court appearances.” (It is unclear from the transcripts whether the aggravated assault on the SFPD officer remained an open case or Judge East was referring to other cases.)

A month later, on September 25th, San Francisco sheriffs had to issue a warrant for Mendez’s arrest because he failed to honor Judge East’s instructions to remain at Harbor Lights, or he cut his ankle monitor off.

Mendez arrested again for breaking into a car

quote marks

Fortunately for Mendez, on November 16th, he appeared in ultra-liberal Judge Michael Begert’s court (Department 8). Despite Mendez’s failure to comply with diversion, Begert nevertheless granted Mendez “mental health diversion’ (again).”

One day after the warrant was issued, Northern Station police officer Jessie O’Keefe arrested Mendez in the process of breaking into a car (again) off Van Ness Avenue (again).

Judge Begert compounded others’ mistakes

Fortunately for Mendez, on November 16th, he appeared in ultra-liberal Judge Michael Begert’s court (Department 8). Despite Mendez’s failure to comply with diversion, Begert nevertheless granted Mendez “mental health diversion’ (again). Sources report (a) that Mendez has a December 12th hearing to confirm that a bed in a diversion program is available, and (b) Begert also is suspending Mendez’s criminal proceedings on his aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against the police officer captured in the videos (above).

Judge Begert’s inability to understand the criminal state of mind

As logical and law-abiding citizens, it is difficult for us to comprehend how someone can rationally justify committing a crime. It is this lack of understanding of the criminal mindset that too frequently causes reasonable citizens to conflate criminal behavior with mental health deficiencies.

As a police officer for 23 years, I gained my most significant insight into the criminal mind from a USF class on auditing. It was related to white-collar crime. The instructor lectured, “No one believes they committed a crime. They formulate an excuse beforehand to justify stealing: I deserved a larger raise; I deserved that promotion, not Joe; and I was just borrowing the money; I would have paid it back.” [2]

I found the criminal mindset of San Francisco’s streets no different: It’s not my fentanyl; I was just holding it for a friend. I didn’t steal her iPhone; I was just borrowing it to make a phone call, and I found the gun and was merely returning it to a police station.

Judge Begert’s judicial seat is challenged in the March 2024 election, and his campaign website quotes him embracing the same preformulated justifications that arrestees make: battled against the challenges of criminal behavior, drug addiction, inadequate treatment, the housing crisis, mental illness, racism, wealth inequality, and the relentless degradation that these leave in their wake.

Do Begert’s website and his ruling on Mendez corroborate his detachment from reality? Essentially, Begert believes that Mendez’s criminal record was affected by the wealth inequality created by the preferential tax rate for hedge funds. While simultaneously, Mendez lacked the mental capacity to recognize the no-consequence diversions San Francisco judges have repeatedly gifted him were not an encouragement to act violently and commit the same crimes over and over again.

Begert also must believe that Mendez, who attacked police officers who were carrying guns, is not a potential safety risk to the general unarmed public. And Mendez, who failed to comply with the soft consequences of an ankle monitor and voluntary diversion two months ago, will now comply with Begert’s same instructions. One is reminded of Charlie Brown, assuming Lucy will place-hold the football this time.

How can Begert understand San Francisco crime from his $5.2 million[3] Piedmont home?

Begert has shown great concern for criminals but virtually no empathy for the SFPD officers who risked great bodily injury to protect San Franciscans from Mendez. The term “San Franciscans” excludes Begert, who apparently lives in the exclusive enclave of Piedmont behind the comfort of a community segregated from homelessness and protected by a fully funded police department.[4]

Unlike other SF candidates, judges do not have to reside in the city. So, while we can justifiably accuse Begert of carpetbagging, he is not violating election residency requirements. Considering Begert’s Piedmont residency — has he ever ridden a MUNI.?Begert’s disconnect rings loudest when he renders judgments that compromise the safety of people who live in and have to deal with the daily inhospitably of San Francisco’s streets.

As a contrast, Begert’s opponent has resided in the same San Francisco middleclass westside house for the past 28 years—within 2 miles of where my parents raised me, and where I raised my children.

[1] Since Mayor Lee changed the procedures from reporting car break-ins in 2017, SPFD is not even informed of break-ins that are not currently in progress.
[2] The USF instructor also lectured: a) to be suspicious of the person who never takes a vacation day, as they are worried a substitute will uncover their accounting games, and b) look for the person who has an affinity to fast women (unaffordable lifestyle) or slow horses (gambling).
[3] Zillow values Begert’s home at $5.2 million. His home address in intentionally withheld to afford him privacy.
[4] While I can’t exactly prove Begert lives in Piedmont, here is the evidence he does: A Google search indicated Begert owned two properties through 2021. One home was on Potrero Hill, and the other in Piedmont. However, shows the Potrero Hill property was sold in 2021 and no other San Francisco address is listed for Begert as a replacement. The same Google search indicates Begert’s wife’s name is “Annette” and is 57 years of age. Begert is 60. There is a landline associated with the Piedmont property with a “510” prefix. I called that number and the taped voicemail response answered, “Mike and Annette.” While cellphones can be moved to a different area code’s billing address, I don’t believe landlines are portable. Have you ever called a San Francisco landline with a “213” or “212” area code?

Lou Barberini is a CPA and has been writing articles for the Westside Observer since February 2016.

December 20, 2023

Lou Barberini
Lou Barberini

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