Bail Fail
San Francisco

‘A deadly accident waiting to happen’ – inside Milton Thomas’ murder arrest

Milton Thomas’ arrest for murder last week is the latest chapter in the career of a repeat violent felon who would not have been on San Francisco’s streets at the time of the killing but for the determination of a federal judge not to imprison him for a previous firearms offense.

Thomas, 42, has a two decade track record of arrests and convictions for drug trafficking and firearms possession. Prophetically described as “a deadly accident waiting to happen” by federal prosecutors, he nevertheless spent the last year staving off a sentencing hearing for a gun assault.

He appeared in San Francisco Superior Court on September 21 charged with the murder of James Allen. Allen was shot near Charles Brenham Place at around 9:00pm on September 16, later being declared dead at hospital. Another man received injuries that police say are not life-threatening.

Thomas was indicted by a federal grand jury in June 2021 on charges stemming from a 2020 incident where he pistol-whipped a rival Tenderloin drug dealer while robbing him. He tried to dispose of the gun – a Glock 22 equipped with an extended magazine loaded with 27 .40 caliber rounds plus one in the chamber – before he was arrested at gunpoint. DNA evidence proved the weapon was his.

In August 2021 Thomas secured pre-trial release on an unsecured $25,000 bond by order of U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero. This was revoked after an incident in the Tenderloin where he pointed a gun at a liquor store patron while repeatedly threatening to shoot him in the face.

The victim speaks to police as the man officers ID as Thomas walks nearby

Although another magistrate judge ruled, twice, that he must now stay in custody, Thomas was not cooling his heels in jail for long. The detention decision was overruled by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer who released him once more after hearing representations from the federal public defender that police identification of him as the liquor store gun brandisher was unreliable.

A sentencing hearing for the underlying offense was held on October 26 2022 at which Assistant U.S. Attorney Alethea Sargent asked the court to impose a 46 month prison sentence. Instead, the judge agreed with a defense proposal for a noncustodial disposition and deferred sentencing in order for Thomas to maintain his employment prospects, family relationships and medical treatment.

In her sentencing memorandum, Sargent said that the defendant “appears to have spent his entire adult life engaged in criminal activity [and…] his last twenty years has [seen] a series of arrests punctuated by convictions for both narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses.”

“A 46-month sentence is necessary to change this dangerous course of conduct and to protect the public from a deadly accident waiting to happen.”

Describing the incident as “an isolated transgression,” federal public defenders explained in their sentencing memorandum that Thomas was working at a homeless shelter run by city nonprofit Hospitality House at the time, and conflicts would arise with clients as he tried to keep order in the facility. He said we was receiving threats when he made the “disastrous decision to commit the conduct at issue in this case.”

The memorandum went on to say that “[c]ontinuing supervision will ensure sufficient punishment, give him the opportunity to show that he has been truly deterred from future criminal conduct and is no longer a danger to the community, commit to continued rehabilitation under Pretrial Services’ supervision, and allow him the best chance of living a law-abiding life.”

Judge Breyer agreed to defer sentencing. Sentencing was deferred again on December 14 2022 and June 14 2023. The next sentencing hearing was set for December 12 2023.

Thomas was therefore free on September 16 2023 to, as state prosecutors claim, murder James Allen.

He will next appear before Superior Court Judge Victor Hwang on October 10.

April 7, 2020Thomas arrested for robbing and pistol whipping a rival drug dealer.
June 10, 2021Grand jury returns a federal indictment based on the above offense (a ‘felon in possession of ammunition’ charges).
August 31, 2021Granted release by U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero on an unsecured 25k bond.
January 24, 2022Ordered detained by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim after threatening a liquor store patron with a gun. Kim finds ‘by clear and convincing evidence’ that no conditions of release will ensure the safety of the community.
February 22, 2022Kim again affirms detention saying that police identification of Thomas as the suspect in the liquor store incident has not been undermined by footage produced by defense.
March 2, 2022Breyer reverses the decision to detain Thomas and orders his release.
October 26, 2022Sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer at which Government asks for 46 month sentence. Sentencing is deferred until December 14, 2022.
December 14, 2022Sentencing deferred again until June 21, 2023 (later changed to June 14, 2023).
June 14, 2023Sentencing deferred again until December 13, 2023.
September 16, 2023Police say Thomas shoots and kills James Allen.

Thomas is only the latest violent criminal, under the supervision of federal court officials, to have committed murder blocks from the San Francisco federal courthouse.

San Francisco Police Department announced the arrest of Thomas at 7:09pm on September 21, 2023 – only after he had already made his initial appearance in court.

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