Bail Fail
San Francisco

SF murder accused was in court in a gun case between killing and arrest

The man accused of a broad-daylight murder on a busy Tenderloin street last month has a three decade track record of violence and mayhem, court records show, and had appeared in court on an unrelated firearms charge – after the murder, but before being arrested – accompanied by a director of the nonprofit Urban Alchemy, for whom he worked full time, who supported his continued release.

Randall Evans is charged with the murder of 31 year old Justin Smith. Smith was shot to death in front of horrified commuters on July 21 2023 at the intersection of Golden Gate Avenue and Hyde Street.

He pleaded ‘not guilty’ at arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court last Thursday to charges of murder and weapons possession. Judge Victor Hwang ordered him to be held without bail.

Evans was wearing a GPS ankle monitor at the time of the murder which he subsequently cut off.

The intersection where Justin Smith, inset, was murdered

Evans’ juvenile record includes convictions for armed robbery and assault with a firearm – stemming from robberies of cab drivers one of whom was shot in the back. In addition to a further conviction for theft, he was arrested 10 times as a juvenile including for first degree robbery and burglary.

He has accumulated nine convictions for felonies as an adult: from robbing a pizza parlor at gunpoint in 2000 and being caught with another gun in 2004, to a ‘drive by’ shooting of a man in 2014.

He led police on high speed chases in 2010, 2012 and 2018 resulting in property damage and injury.

Prosecutors say Evans shot Justin Smith just after 6pm on Friday July 21. Commuters in slow traffic at the intersection of Golden Gate Avenue and Hyde Street looked on as Smith ran across the street and fell, mortally wounded, to the ground. Police officers from SFPD’s Tenderloin station were flagged down and rendered aid to the victim who nonetheless was subsequently declared dead at the scene.

Jail records show Evans was booked on the afternoon of August 21. He appeared in court on August 24 for arraignment on the murder charges.

Judge Victor Hwang did not offer the defendant the opportunity to waive the reading of the charges, explaining that, in the case of murder, it was his practice to read them in full. Evans’s attorney, Eric Safire, told the court his client pleaded ‘not guilty’ to each, with the judge ordering Evans held without bail.

Eighteen days after Smith’s death, on August 8, Evans arrived at court 14 of San Francisco federal courthouse for a 10:00am hearing. He was supported by two relatives and a person described by the judge as “the Director of Urban Alchemy.”

Having recently pleaded guilty to ‘being a felon in possession of a firearm,” – but having remained free as part of a bid to join a ‘conviction alternatives program’ which would spare him jail –  Evans had been summoned back to court because he had cut off his court-ordered GPS ankle monitor on July 22 – one day after Smith’s death – and been out of contact with authorities for more than two weeks.

None of the parties participating in the 13 minute hearing were aware that police were closing in on Evans as a suspect in the murder perpetrated just one block from the courtroom.

Attorneys for the Government and U.S. pretrial services officials recommended that Evans be immediately detained for the ankle monitor violation.

“That’s not going to happen,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler, “because we’re going to try a different approach.”

“So I’m going to pull the file and we’ll go through the formal stuff and advise you of the charge, which is that you didn’t comply with the terms of your supervision, but then we’ll problem solve what happens next. And, normally, I would say people who cut off their ankle bracelet, that’s not the greatest scenario to be in, but we’ll talk about that too.”

Evans attorney Erik Babcock assured the court that his client was “clean and sober and a very active participant in his sobriety, he is working full time with Urban Alchemy, he remains doing that, but he cut off his monitor, which he knows he shouldn’t have done, and admitted to doing, and realized that he put himself in a bad position.”        

Magistrate Judge Beeler concluded that Evans should not be detained and that he should continue to “keep up the good work”.

“It will get better going forward,” she assured him.

The original case stemmed from a 2019 incident where a SOMA resident called police to report a “street person” – who she said lived in an nearby encampment – constantly ringing her doorbell. Responding officers found a man in a nearby parking lot who answered the description given by the resident and who had a knife in his hand. The man, later identified as Evans, attempted to flee, resisted arrest, and was subsequently found to have a Glock semi-automatic pistol with a drum magazine in a backpack he was carrying.

Evans was granted pre-trial release by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins over the strenuous objections of prosecutors who labelled him a “danger to the community” and pointed to “his history of violating release conditions by committing other serious crimes.”

“His record of supervised release in the federal system is not a good one,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Pastor. “He’s shown repeatedly that he’s unable to comply with court ordered conditions, and that gives the Government serious concern that he would [fail to] comply now if he were released on bond.”

Magistrate Judge Cousins determined that allowing Evans’ to live with his mother adequately protected the community and potentially prevent him from contracting the coronavirus in jail which was a concern given his sarcoidosis of the lung diagnosis.

An emergency appeal to U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria was denied and Evans was released.

In January 2023 Evans was acquitted after a jury trial in San Francisco Superior Court stemming from a May 2022 incident when, prosecutors’ said, he entered a Folsom Street tire store, asked to borrow a tool and, on being refused, made a threat to kill, retrieved a gun and pointed it at an employee.

The trial was notable for the visit paid by deputy public defender Max Breecker, after the trial had begun, to the home of a witness purportedly in order to take a statement from her. After that witness then failed to appear in court, and was then forced to appear, she told the court that Breecker had informed her she was to be the only witness, that it would be documented, and that she risked adverse immigration consequences for her testimony. An attorney appointed by the court to represent her said that he thought Breecker and the Public Defender’s office was trying to intimidate his client and called it very inappropriate. Breecker denied the accusations.

That verdict came four months before another San Francisco jury deadlocked in the murder trial of Fantasy Decuir and Lamonte Mims for the caught-on-camera shooting of a photographer at the Twin Peaks scenic overlook.

Update: Evans appeared again in Department 10 of San Francisco Superior Court on September 21 for a largely administrative hearing. He was ordered to appear again on October 5 before Judge Loretta Giorgi in Department 20.

Commentary: This may prove to be a further example illustrating the questionable utility of using recidivist violent felons to ‘police’ the Tenderloin neighborhood. Urban Alchemy employee Darnell Houston fired eight shots in a gun battle that took place half a block from where Justin Smith was shot last month. Houston was re-hired by the organization after he was sentenced to probation in June this year.

Allen Releford is employed as a ‘security guard’ at venerable Catholic nonprofit St. Anthony’s – two blocks from where Smith was killed. Releford was paroled in 2021 having served a 14 year sentence for the kidnapping and rape of a sixteen year old girl. Since being paroled he has been arrested twice in possession of firearms which he is not permitted to have.

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