Hundreds attended a memorial for Jeff Adachi at San Francisco City Hall on March 4. (NBC Bay Area)
SAN FRANCISCO — The City and County of San Francisco Office of the Chief Medical Examiner on March 22 issued a report stating that Public Defender Jeff Adachi had cocaine in his system the night he died.
The report, signed by Dr. Ellen Moffatt, listed the cause of death as “acute mixed drug toxicity with cocaine and ethanol, with hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease as a contributing factor.”
Exactly a month earlier, on the night of Feb. 22, paramedics found Adachi, 59, unresponsive in a Telegraph Hill apartment. According to ABC7, they shocked him multiple times and were able to get a slow pulse, but lost it a few seconds later. He was taken to California Pacific Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
A woman identified only as “Catalina” told investigators she and Adachi had some cannabis edibles and a glass or two of champagne with dinner. During the dinner in North Beach, Adachi complained of severe stomach pain.
“At some point, most likely during the dinner, his already compromised heart could no longer sustain the amount of cardiac stress caused by these stimulant substances and became ischemic with death resulting a few hours later,” according to the report, which also said that syringes found at the scene “were consistent with medical therapy.”
Moffatt found evidence Adachi had suffered a heart attack earlier that day, but did not find it a factor in his death.
Former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos said via Facebook, “It’s not how Jeff Adachi died but how he lived his life that matters to me. He was a great man. Period.”
Without mentioning the report, the Public Defender’s Office issued the following statement on March 24: “When Jeff Adachi began as S.F. public defender five terms ago, our office barely had computers. Lawyers did most if their own investigating and paralegal work. Now we have a strong team of both, along with social workers.
“Jeff spearheaded removing fines and fees for our clients, the Clean Slate program, and our MAGIC programs, which work with the communities most hit by crime, bringing children thousands of books and back-to-school supplies.
“When he died he was working on booting the predatory for-profit corporations that charge inmates to use the telephone. He exposed corrupt abusive cops and worked diligently to tackle homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues. Under his watch, juvenile crime has plummeted 80 percent.
“But most importantly he was dedicated to everyone’s constitutional right to a fair trial. Everyone — even those that disparaged him. He pushed public defenders around the country to do more to help their communities but also to take great pride in their work. His legacy will never be forgotten.”
Online comments about the coroner’s report have varied widely. Some supporters have suggested foul play and a cover-up, while critics have accused Adachi of being a drug addict and said that any cases he tried should be reopened. Others have questioned whether such salacious details should have been made public.
The sudden and unexpected death of Adachi, who had just started his fifth term as the state’s only elected public defender, has been ruled an accident. He is survived by his wife and daughter.
Praised and Vilified
At a public memorial held at City Hall on March 4, speakers included Mayor London Breed, former Mayor Willie Brown, poet Janice Mirikitani, Paul Osaki of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, Rev. Bob Oshita of Buddhist Church of Sacramento, Rev. Ronald Kobata of Buddhist Church of San Francisco, Adachi’s brother Stan, and Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney at the Public Defender’s Office.
San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney has suggested renaming a South of Market street after Adachi. Currently known as Gilbert Street, it is between Brannan and Bryant streets and runs parallel to 6th and 7th streets.
Haney said in a statement last week, “For decades, Jeff Adachi walked from the Public Defender’s Office back entrance door out to Gilbert Street to get to the criminal courthouse at 850 Bryant St. Jeff would use Gilbert Street not just as his daily thoroughfare, but also as a place to connect with, mentor, and support fellow attorneys on their way to and from the court.”
Newly appointed Public Defender Manohar Raju said, “Jeff Adachi dedicated his life to setting vulnerable people on the right path and championing criminal justice reform. He left an imprint on the neighborhood and communities of San Francisco, so it’s fitting that this city that he loved so much would name a street after him.”
Raju added that Adachi’s family was honored by the proposal.
In other developments, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association has cut ties with one of its former presidents, Gary Delagnes, following his inflammatory Facebook post just days after Adachi’s death.
Adachi had an adversarial relationship with the SFPD, often accusing police officers of misconduct.
In a Feb. 28 post, Delagnes wrote, in part, “In my 35 years in law enforcement I have never experienced a more vile, despicable, bottom-feeding human being … To Jeff nothing was out of bounds from directing his attorneys to have their clients make baseless complaints against police officers in an attempt to harm their ability to testify to recruiting hundreds of homeless people to accompany him to BOS [Board of Supervisors] meetings to yell and scream while he lied, and lied, and lied about his budget and his need for more attorneys to defend the so-called downtrodden of SF.”
Delagnes also made comments about Adachi’s personal life that, according to current POA President Tony Montoya, damaged the union’s efforts to build goodwill with City Hall.
“Mentioning the family — to me that was the no-no part,” Montoya told The San Francisco Chronicle. “You leave the family out of it. To me that was an out of bounds.”
Delagnes doubled down in a follow-up post on March 2, saying of his detractors, “Once again we see the absolute hypocrisy of these self-important clowns who demand transparency and openness from every police officer but when it comes to Jeff Adachi, one of their own, not so much.”
The Board of Supervisors has called for hearings on who was responsible for police reports about Adachi, including photos of the interior of the apartment where he was found, being leaked to local media almost immediately after his death.
“It seems to be without precedent that this was leaked to the press,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin told The San Francisco Examiner last month. “The fact that Jeff Adachi stood up to aspects of Police Department behavior that were unacceptable does not mean that he should be mistreated after his passing.”