City attorney declines to charge homeless Black man tackled and punched during La Jolla arrest

Jesse Evans, 34, appears at a May 14 news conference in La Jolla held by the Rev. Shane Harris (left).
Jesse Evans, 34, appears at a May 14 news conference in La Jolla held by the Rev. Shane Harris (left), president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A bystander video-recorded the May 12 arrest of Jesse Evans near UC San Diego.


The San Diego city attorney’s office announced June 11 that it will not file charges against Jesse Evans, a homeless Black man who was punched repeatedly in the head and legs during his arrest by two San Diego police officers in La Jolla.

Evans’ May 12 arrest sparked an outcry after a bystander recorded cellphone footage of the struggle, which started when officers approached him about urinating on trees near a busy intersection.

The confrontation escalated and Evans was wrestled to the ground, where the officers punched him again and again on his face and legs. The 34-year-old was jailed on suspicion of offenses including obstructing an officer, battery on a police officer and resisting arrest.

Amid a nationwide push for policing reforms, the bystander video quickly caught attention. Critics raised concerns about excessive force, a failure to de-escalate, and race and class discrimination.

The Police Department has said the internal affairs unit is investigating the incident.

Many activists and community members rallied around Evans with a list of demands, including urging prosecutors to decline to file charges.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office, which handles felony cases throughout the county and misdemeanors outside the city of San Diego, declined to file a case last month, according to activists, although the office did not respond to a request to confirm the decision.

The city attorney’s office, which prosecutes misdemeanors, said no charges would be brought.

“Our city’s resources could better be used providing public restrooms,” City Attorney Mara Elliott said.

The decision, which was cheered by Evans’ supporters, effectively ends the threat that he could face criminal charges in connection with the incident, which happened at a busy intersection near UC San Diego.

San Diego police later released footage of the incident recorded by the body-worn cameras of the two officers.

Evans said two officers stopped him as he unclasped his pants to urinate close to some trees. He walked away cursing. The officers drove around the block and approached him again. The second encounter turned physical.

At a news conference two days after his arrest, Evans said he had not urinated before the incident and should not have been stopped in the first place.

“As far as the charges against me are concerned, where I stand is, if I haven’t broken any law, why would a cop try to arrest me?” he said.

SDPD officials contended that Evans’ refusal to cooperate with the officers led to the scuffle.

“[Evans] would not stop to speak with officers; therefore an officer held the man to detain him,” the department said in a statement May 13. “Despite the officers’ repeatedly telling the man to stop resisting, [he] would not comply.”

On June 11, Evans’ attorney, Marlea Dell'Anno, released a statement calling the decision not to file criminal charges “welcome news.”

“But it is important to note that there were no viable criminal charges to be filed in the first place,” she said. “This is no act of benevolence; this is an act of justice based on the law and facts. Mr. Evans did nothing wrong.”

The Rev. Shane Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, also had pressed prosecutors to decline to file charges against Evans, and he released a statement June 11 calling the decision “a victory.”

“We need more resources invested in the full concept of public safety,” Harris said. “Mr. Evans should not have been punched out by our public servants. Instead, he should have been offered to be taken to a nearby restroom or a social worker should have been brought to the scene.”

He later added that “reimagining policing means we need to invest more in wrap-around resources to deal with the mentally challenged or the unsheltered.”

Dell'Anno said she has asked to meet with Elliott to talk about a resolution to the matter that does not involve filing a civil suit.

She said she also told Elliott’s office that she believes “something very positive could come from this tragic event if we are all willing to put aside our various differences and work toward sustainable solutions.”

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.