Fresno homeless advocate Dez Martinez walked out of court Thursday morning cleared of interfering with police last year at a temporary housing motel.
“When the defense declared ready for trial, the prosecution dismissed the case,” said Martinez’s attorney, Kevin Little, in an email to GV Wire. “The cited basis was a lack of evidence sufficient to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the rules of ethics applicable to prosecutors, cases are not even supposed to be filed if there is insufficient proof.”
In a statement to GV Wire, the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that it dropped the case against Martinez but stated that it did nothing wrong in charging her.
“During the preparation of the case for trial, supervising prosecutors determined after review of all pertinent evidence that the case could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement said.
“The California Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 5-11 require that “…if, after the institution of criminal charges, the member in government service having responsibility for prosecuting the charges becomes aware that those charges are not supported by probable cause, the member shall promptly so advise the court in which the criminal matter is pending.”
Details of the Confrontation
Little provided details about the events leading to Martinez’s arrest by Fresno police.
“Both advocating for the rights of others and criticizing public officials, including police officers, are protected activities under the First Amendment. One cannot be convicted for engaging in such behaviors.” — Attorney Kevin Little
“The case arose from a March 17, 2022 incident that occurred at one of the hotels converted into temporary housing for the homeless, near Olive and Parkway. The entire incident is video recorded, and it shows that Ms. Martinez did nothing more than advocate for the homeless woman who management wanted evicted in the middle of the night. Ms. Martinez took exception to one of the officers’ repeated threats to arrest her if she did not desist, and she was subsequently arrested.
“Both advocating for the rights of others and criticizing public officials, including police officers, are protected activities under the First Amendment. One cannot be convicted for engaging in such behaviors. That is a fundamental tenet of our democracy that should have been recognized by the officers and prosecutors from the outset.”
Before Thursday’s proceedings, the ACLU of Northern California emailed a letter to Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp urging her to drop the case against Martinez.
The ACLU described Martinez as a “beloved and trusted advocate for Fresno’s unhoused community” and said that the case was “questionable on the merits, contrary to public interest, and tainted by the appearance of retaliatory motives.”
ACLU Northern Ca letter to Lisa Smittcamp Fresno County DA
— Fresno Homeless Union (@WeInvisible) February 16, 2023
Martinez Seeks Damages for Alleged Assault by City Employee
According to court records, Martinez says that she was “physically assaulted by a City of Fresno employee” on Jan. 4, 2022, in an incident captured on video.
Little presented a claim for damages greater than $25,000 to the city, which is the first step in a process that often results in a lawsuit.
However, the city says that it didn’t receive the claim until after the filing deadline passed, thus ending the case.
Little has asked for the court to allow the claim to continue. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for June 1 before Fresno County Superior Court Judge Tyler Tharpe.
(GV Wire’s David Taub contributed to this article.)