Bail Fail
U.S. District Court

Emergency appeal stops judge from freeing San Francisco gunman

On January 5, 2023 repeat violent felon Charles Edwards Jr. fired an “AR-15-style” rifle on a crowded street in San Francisco’s Mission District. On March 20, 2023, over prosecutors’ objections, U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Cisneros ordered him released, provoking an emergency appeal.

According to court documents, Edwards left his apartment at Valencia Gardens carrying a semi-automatic rifle loaded with more than 50 rounds of ammunition. After walking two blocks to the busy intersection at Valencia and 16th he opened fire twice “in close proximity to people” coming and going during the evening rush hour.

Edwards was recorded by security cameras firing the weapon in to the ground and was also photographed with weapon in hand walking away from the scene. Tracked down later that night by SFPD officers, he was found in possession of a rifle matching the description of the one used and admitted to using it, claiming that he was robbed in the area the previous evening and feared for his safety.

Witness photo of Charles Edwards Jr carrying the rifle

Edwards has a significant criminal history. He is best-known for a 2010 attack which left his victim comatose and paralyzed, ultimately leading to a 10-year sentence for “assault with a firearm”, plus numerous other firearms, spousal battery and theft offenses. He is not allowed to own weapons.

Following his arrest he was kept in custody in San Francisco. A federal grand jury then indicted Edwards and he made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Lisa Cisneros for a detention hearing. There, to prosecutors’ evident surprise, Cisneros ordered Edwards’ release on an unsecured $15,000 bond on condition that he live at a halfway house.

The AR-15-style rifle found in Edwards’ possession

Arguing in favor of detention at the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Goldstein highlighted the risk of non-appearance by the defendant and the danger he posed the community, drawing the court’s attention to the large semi-automatic rifle involved.

“Your honor we are seeking release,” said Federal Public Defender Angela Chuang who initially proposed that Edwards be released to home detention with an ankle monitor condition. “My biggest concern here is for Mr Edwards’ health. He has been in state custody for a little under three months, during that period he was hospitalized four times. He has sickle cell anaemia. He is not getting the medical care he needs while he is in custody and I am extremely concerned that this will continue at Santa Rita [jail].”

She went on to point out that, while serious, his last conviction was 13 years ago and her client completed his period on parole after released. Strict conditions would mitigate any danger to the community, she said.

Magistrate Judge Cisneros questioned why the defendant was charged with being a felon in possession of ammunition rather than in possession of the firearm itself. Mr Goldstein explained that the gun appeared to be privately manufactured and as it could not yet be definitively proved to have been made outside California, an inter-state nexus with respect to it could not yet be demonstrated.

“The nature of the charges is very, very serious,” said Cisneros. “I do recognize that the convictions and violent behavior that is in Mr Edwards’ history […] is not recent, but then the recent behavior is this precise charge which posed a very serious danger to the community.”

“I am sensitive to the fact that the defendant does have some serious health issues – and that Santa Rita jail[‘s…] reputation with respect to providing adequate health care has been seriously questioned. And maybe it would encourage me to seriously consider alternatives to incarceration.”

Following discussion about the level of security and monitoring available at halfway houses in San Francisco, the judge made her decision: “I think what I’m going to do here is release Mr Edwards to Taylor Street House.” She then outlined various conditions to the defendant.

“Your honor very briefly,” said AUSU Jeremy Goldstein, “I think this is worrisome enough that we request that the defendant is held long enough for us to file a quick appeal, and we’ll see if there is something to be done there.”

The appeal filed later that day told U.S. District Judge William Alsup that “the flagrancy of the defendant’s conduct – carrying and the discharging of a loaded rifle in a busy and highly trafficked commercial corridor – underscores his lack of respect for the rule of law.”

Alsup issued an order that same day maintaining the status quo, and keeping Edwards in custody, until a hearing could be held. That hearing was held on April 4 where he decided that Edwards should stay in custody as proceedings continue.

Charles Edwards has no particularly close ties to San Francisco. Prosecutors say that he has moved repeatedly over the years, spending time in Stockton, Oakland and Modesto in addition to being incarcerated for 10 years.

Prior to her selection for her position, announced in August 2022, Magistrate Judge Cisneros worked in the civil rights enforcement section at the California Department of Justice. She is a graduate of Brown University and UC Berkeley School of Law.

Read the United States’ Motion to Revoke Release Order here.

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