• Suicide baiting case gets 10 minutes in court

    KathyYountCourt

    My day in court.

    Even though we had worked five years to hear “All Rise!” we almost missed it, but not because we were late.

    We were early. In fact, had we not arrived early for Oral Arguments in the First District Court of Appeal, San Francisco, we would have not only missed the bailiff’s imperative, but also the opportunity to observe the three justices’ dispensation of the five cases before ours.

    Once inside the court room (spelled that way above the door), used for both the 1DCA and the California Supreme Court, we barely had time to take in the details. A soaring skylight and coffered ceiling rise gently above rich oak paneling and a giant California landscape mural to form the backdrop for the most dominant feature, “the bench,” where the justices sit.

    Their seats, elevated above all others, are separated by “the bar,” a railing that divides the judicial area from a semi-circle surround of seats for waiting counsels, press, and guests. The area in between the bench and the gallery is called “the well,” where attorneys argue. The visual symbolism is plain: Only an attorney can speak for me.

    Even as I made a quick sketch of this, I knew the details of the courtroom in the Earl Warren building at 350 McAllister were already indelibly etched in my mind.

    When the bailiff issued his order and everyone rose in shuffled unison, I thought my knees might buckle. The sound of this collective movement in unison had flashed before me as the sound the pigeons’ feathery wings had made rising in startled terror the nanosecond after my son’s falling body had crashed.

    Flashbacks always divide my attention. I tried to focus.

    Legal scholars often call the Court of Appeal the “Court of Error” because its job is to address the potential errors of the lower court. Pondering all the possible combinations in the outcome of Kathy Yount et al. v. City and County of San Francisco et al. on the morning of Aug. 20, 2015, left me dizzy.

    I would have no way of knowing the decision for Yount v. CCSF would come just eight days later, even though I had read that justices usually have their minds made up before these formal arguments.

    That morning, though, I reflected that we had been aiming directly — and definitely lugubriously — toward this higher court all along. We have struggled to get here to redress the injustice of being dismissed from a jury trial in Superior Court regarding the death of my only child Dylan Yount in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2010.

    Our contention is and has always been that 24 San Francisco police officers caused my son’s death and should have prevented his suicide “in the context” of what was happening to him.

    “In the context of what was happening to him means suicide baiting, a psychological term the courts do not recognize yet. It means the malicious encouragement of suicide when an irrational victim who is already threatening suicide death is provoked until he follows through at a mob’s behest. Rather than stopping the suicide baiting, the San Francisco police chose to become part of the chorus of cruelty emanating from below him.

    I reflected for the zillionth time that winning this case will not bring Dylan back, while at the same time acknowledging how hard we have worked to get here. I do not want suicide baiting to happen to anyone else. Even so, I look at this court with a jaundiced eye.

    Just two days prior to this courtroom appearance, for instance, the court reduced our speaking time from 30 minutes to just 10 (CA Rules of Court 8.256, c #2). For the uninitiated, anticipating such capricious contingencies is next to impossible, for there is not time enough to attend law school before one initiates a lawsuit.

    I think back ruefully, remembering how my first lawyer had screamed at me that he did not have time to teach me “the law.” This also made me think of the old adage, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and I cannot help wondering again how it is defensible that at least one of the 24 SFPD officers had not known the law he was presumably paid to enforce.

    I cannot imagine the frustration attorneys must feel working in these willy-nilly circumstances either, since I can also barely reconcile how our case has become more “streamlined” the farther we go along.

    Take the time element, for example. The medical examiner’s report (and much anecdotal observation) says that Dylan had left the ledge and gone back inside his loft apartment at least one time. As evidence, the M.E. offers multiple footprint marks Dylan left inside on the sill of the window.

    Even so, the time frame of this case is now based on the time the filmmaker began recording, which was after Dylan stayed outside. To me, whittling the time down to 15 minutes rather than the actual hour deliberately minimizes the multiple opportunities the SFPD had to prevent his suicide death “in this context.” Narrowing the time down is like analyzing the waters inside the San Francisco Bay in order to describe the Pacific Ocean.

    Nevertheless, I have tried to “see” my son’s death from other “perspectives.”

    Take the day before court. The attorney, the filmmaker, my niece and I had met for a late 3:30 p.m. lunch in Cafe Bistro on the top floor of the downtown Nordstrom store, across Market Street from the former Forever 21 building in Hallidie Plaza.

    This restaurant had been the setting where many witnesses had watched Dylan leap to his death at 3:25 p.m. One blog writer had written that night that many diners had laughed when he jumped because they had been “nervous.” She said that Dylan — a man whom she had never met as far as I know — had not known Jesus like she did.

    Yesterday, the innocent laughter and pleasant lunch chatter at nearby tables had given me momentary chills as I recalled her hurtful words. Will I ever understand this “perspective” regarding Dylan’s death? Do I want to?

    The attorney had already been waiting for us at Cafe Bistro when we arrived — early ourselves — but on the morning of Oral Arguments we were seated and waiting on him.

    I had begun to panic a little, wondering where the appellant’s compassionate, brilliant, John-Kennedy-good-looking, motorcycle-riding attorney was. Of course without our electronics we had been mandated to relinquish, we had no way of knowing he had tried to tell us we had been bumped down even lower on the court’s docket.

    When Attorney Gregory Walston at last arrived — early as well — we watched him sit down quietly half a gallery section away. His composed and stoic posture revealed the deep respect he has for this process. This calmed me down for a bit, yet when both he and the other young counsel rose to cross inside the bar into the well to take their places at the plea tables and podium, I was barely able to breathe.

    When Presiding Justice Barbara J.R. Jones called my son “David” in her opening remarks, my terror was complete.

    We listened as Attorney Walston used all his 10 minutes at once. His honesty is as disarming as his smile is outside of court. Candid and blunt, he stated he knew of “no cases” to cite as precedents for ours. His most compelling argument was that Dylan had been “feeding off the crowd.” It is clear this young attorney is working to “evolve” the “duty to act.”

    In stark contrast, both stylistically and intellectually, was the young woman who acts in the capacity to speak officially for the city of San Francisco. She also used her 10 minutes at once. City Deputy Attorney Elizabeth Pederson has always relied heavily on Adams v. City of Freemont, another case also decided in a Court of Appeal by a majority decision of 2-1.

    Adams v. CF had found that police have no enforceable duty to assist any person in danger but concluded two exceptions to the general rule exist.

    It is the exceptions in Adams v. CF that interest me, not for the reliance on the majority opinion, but the words of the dissenting justice who had disagreed with the other two. He said that not only is a police officer obligated to protect a victim because of the relationship he has made with that “endangered person” (the “Get back inside, YOU FOOL!” offered by Officer Perez) but also for the relationship the police make with the person or persons “whose conduct may injure the person endangered.”

    The relationship the police made with the crowd was prejudicial. The SFPD never asked a soul to be quiet or move along. They refused to enforce state law (CA Penal Code 401). The chose “a side” and allowed the crowd to “injure” an “endangered person.” They taped off an area for the suicide death to occur and would not allow anyone else inside it in case the falling body would land on them.

    The protected the crowd from him. They refused to protect him from them.

    They prevented anyone else from intervening to help by their very presence. What would the SFPD have done if a citizen had taken it upon himself to make a citizen’s arrest for the “felony” of “encouraging a suicide”? Would the SFPD have allowed a citizen to “force” someone yelling provocations to be taken from the site? The moment Officer Perez spoke for the police, no sane citizen would have interfered in the SFPD management on the suicide attempt scene.

    When she was finished with her 10 minute “perspective,” Attorney Walston asked for “30 seconds more,” which was granted. During that time Justice Henry Needham, Jr., who would go on to write the unanimous 3-0 opinion for Yount v. CCSF, questioned, so you think his “suicide should have been prevented?”

    “In this context,” Walston confidently stressed again.

    In the aftermath of the court experience, we were thoughtful and quiet as we stumbled out to collect our cellphones, iPads, and motorcycle helmet from the California Highway Patrol.

    Five of us convened in a cafeteria on the first floor. It was an incredible experience when the attorney began reciting, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. . .”

    I added my voice to his to finish, “…Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy tears wash out a word of it.”

    Our faces all bore bittersweet smiles. At the time, we all thought the words from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam would fit the court’s responsibility perfectly, that whatever the 1DCA‘s “words” would be, they would be part of this case forever.

    We would learn a different perspective eight days later.

    Opinions for the Court of Appeal can be either published or “unpublished” as part of the official record (CA Rules of Court 8.1115). I will never forget my anger that Aug. 28, 2015, Friday night when I discovered this opinion would be regarded as “unpublished.”

    When I later complained bitterly to my attorney that the court ought to at least have the decency to stand behind what it has written, he offered me a perspective that made my blood run cold.

    “Unpublished” opinions cannot be cited or relied upon for other cases, he had explained. If this one had been certified for publication, then other potential cases would have been able to cite it.

    Our responsibility in Yount v. CCSF is substantial, and our burdens have been heavy every step of the way. Nevertheless, we should be filed for the Supreme Court by the end of this week.

     

     

     


      • Angela Milnes

      • September 3, 2015 at 11:58 am
      • Reply

      This is so sad they need to be accountable for their actions. So that this does not happen to someone elses love one. Mrs. Yount I pray and hope you get justice and no that this former student is truely in disbelief of our judicial system. We are all supporting you in prayers and long distance hugs.


      • liz newman

      • September 3, 2015 at 9:20 pm
      • Reply

      My heart is with you Kathie. Your next step will lead to success.



      • Thank you, Liz. It is been such a pleasure getting to know you and your fine work done in New Orleans. I think you are right — our next “step” will be successful.


      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • September 3, 2015 at 10:38 pm
      • Reply

      When I read this, the tears came: “The sound of this collective movement in unison had flashed before me as the sound the pigeons’ feathery wings had made rising in startled terror the nanosecond after my son’s falling body had crashed.” When I read the rest, my rage rose and devoured me. This is a classic case of the system protecting the system. All pretenses at impartiality in Dylan’s case are just that — pretenses and LIES. This is not justice being blind in the interests of fairness. This is justice with the blindfold off, subverted, without the slightest attempt to see right prevail…



      • Thank you, Maya. I have written about this “sound” before. It is so hard to describe, and few have ever seen it because it is when Dylan dies. The sound of the pigeons all rising together was delayed just slightly after his body had settled on the ground. My psychologist and I spent much time talking about the videotape. I KNEW in May of 2010 I had PTSD when I heard myself tell my friend in the car on the way to St. Louis (my only long drive since Dylan’s death). I think your image of rising rage devouring one is accurate for the “system protecting the system.” It is intellectual dishonesty. No justice, or any of the 311 city attorneys for San Francisco, or any police officers, for that matter, would EVER in a bazillion years be able to say that if their child needed help like Dylan did — they would want the call for assistance “handled that way.” I DO think, though, that we will prevail at the end of this long process. Although I have taken everything “personally” like Dylan did that afternoon, I guess the system just plays hardball with anyone crying “FOUL!” I do not know if I will be the one to write this book, but all this needs to be told. This exposure is necessary before change can happen. You are an amazing woman — a phenomenal teacher — an absolute “force”! It is so strange that I have met so many remarkable people from such an awful circumstance.



        • Maya, I forgot my where I was going in my comment. I had not seen the videotapes and the pigeons until JULY 2010.


      • Maya Spier Stiles North

      • September 5, 2015 at 2:06 am
      • Reply

      You’re right about the backlash from the system — it has a survival instinct and will try to devour anything and anyone in its path. Nonetheless, one can’t give up. I am absolutely sure you have PTSD. How could you not? Big, tender hugs…


      • Terri Connett

      • September 12, 2015 at 6:17 pm
      • Reply

      Kathie, your writing makes me feel like I was there with you. And in some small way, I am. This is still all so hard to understand. The behavior of the police. The onlookers who
      actually egged on your sweet Dylan. The world can be an upside down place. And it takes advocates like you to shine a light on something we don’t want to see. Stay strong. I believe you are going to get justice.



      • Thanks, Terri, for your support. It’s incredible, but I still believe we will get justice as well!



    • Kathie Yount. There is a purpose in all this madness and that you will find so that Dylan can rest then, in peace. Your writing is most descriptive and entailed so much sorrow and anger at the judicial system – rightly so. You shall write your book and, then, find your way to advocate. Possibly I would suggest through a movie for all the world to see touching individuals to realized the lack of compassion is such they, as individuals, must change. Good luck.



    • Dear Kathie Yount…..I share your anger and disbelief in how your dear son was treated as he stood threatening to jump. My son jumped to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge later in 2010. I was told a woman witnessed his leap. I can’t imagine how your son Dylan and my son felt just before their deaths……must have been the worst possible feeling……as a mother we can only bear the pain and talk about it with others who have gone through this horrible tragedy. I wish you well in your quest to get justice for your son. God bless you and your family.



    • Oh, Sybilla, bless you and your family as well! I am so sorry about your son’s death by suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge. When I read your words, “how your son and my son felt before their deaths,” I was struck by the idea that they had to have felt society DID NOT CARE. In your son’s case, it sounds like there might have been people going about their business without intervening — I wish the woman who witnessed his leap would come forward to speak with you!

      Even though it is too late to save his precious life, the retro-fitting of the nets on the GGB (beginning soon) must be a comfort to the families of the victims who have died there. Restricting the easy access or “lethal means” will send a symbolic gesture to the world — at the location of the world’s most iconic suicide bridge — that people care and want to help.

      Building the net is a gesture exactly like the one I am trying to make within the California court system, too. While neither of these efforts will bring back our sons — or any other victims — it might bring some measure of comfort to all of us to know that this work might save future lives.

      Thank you for reaching out from the depths of your own grief to offer support and compassion to me. We are both mothers who understand that “suicide baiting prevention” and “means restriction” are proven ways to prevent suicide death. It is the way we honor the memory of our kids.



    • I am avidly following your story and have from the start. I was bullied and suicidal most of my younger life. I’ve heard the taunts and yet somehow found a kernel of strength to keep me going until I had kids. Now I just focus on their faces and know this shall pass, and it does. But so many do not have that internal understanding, nor light to reach for when needed most. I know a LOT of people, subscribe to the philosophy of “if they are weak, what is one less”, they do not embrace compassion, do not comprehend it as mothers do, and never will. Unfortunately people in power, in my experience, have this in larger doses. BUT IT IS WRONG.

      They would have a fit, if that was voiced about their child, husband, wife, family member or work partner, but ok for John Q Public? This is the exact same mentality fueling the war on women, and immigrants, etc. It must be turned around for us as people to ever survive. I do hope it becomes a book. If you need someone to help type it, call on me, it’s time is here.



      • Thank you for your comment, Mary. Your story of overcoming bullying is inspiring and your observations — acute and accurate. It is the “intellectually dishonesty” of the attorneys who DEFEND what the police did on 2-16-10 that is SO HURTFUL. Once people like this — and the police, themselves, for that matter — begin lining up to say, “Oh this is EXACTLY how I would have wanted my son to be treated!” (or brother, daughter, father, any loved one, really) then I might quit fighting for justice. That will never happen, though. It has taken me five years to realize. Thanks for this support, today — it helps so much. Sometimes when I think the reservoir of humanity is running dry, someone comes up to tell me — compassion is alive and well. Somehow, the city attorneys for SF cannot understand that most of us are unable “to forget” what Dylan saw before his death. When I remember this again — multiple, multiple times each day — it helps me resolve to keep working. I am glad to know you are a mom with kids now. I hope they realize what a gift you are — any man’s death diminishes us all, especially that of one so vulnerable. The book IS coming. I have no idea if I am the one who is supposed to write it — but it is definitely “in the wings.” My gratitude for your gesture of reaching out to help a stranger.



    • I read this entire post & felt frustration & incredible sadness. When your Son really needed some help there was none, when he was needing the suicide baiters to stop, no one stopped them, the police are there to protect & serve…. There was no protection & who were they serving. I am so sorry for your loss. <3



    • Thank you, Lisa Kemp, for your very kind comment and condolence. The courts told us in their documents that it has been proven many times in courtroom cases that the police have no LEGAL obligation to serve or protect “by virtue of their employment.” I am positive that MOST of us did not know — or still do not know — this depressing news. The justice “system” is in bad shape if what we encountered in our nearly six-year legal battle seeking justice at both the federal and state courts, the court of appeal, and state supreme court of California are any indications of how damaged the system actually is! What happened to Dylan was terrible — but what has happened SINCE THEN — in our attempts to hold the police accountable for not enforcing the law — is arguably much worse for all of us. His brutal death changed every aspect of life for me, but the legal “upholding” of suicide baiting is a game changer for our country.



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