Hit-and-run defendant Popal makes first court appearance
By Brent Begin, Bay City News Service
September 6, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - A 29-year-old man accused of running
down over a dozen people on the streets and sidewalks of San Francisco
last Tuesday made his first appearance today in a packed Superior
Omeed Popal, of Fremont, remained out of sight as his defense
argued that cameramen and artists should not be allowed to photograph,
video or sketch his face because it would influence a jury.
Judge Donna Alyson Little agreed that for this initial evidentiary
hearing, photographers would only be able to capture generic shots
of his clothing and feet.
"The defendant's rights are paramount, of course,"
Deputy Public Defender Sandy Feinland also argued for a gag order
to be issued, barring police from releasing any part of their
report to the media. Little did not grant the order, which she
and Deputy District Attorney Jim Thompson called too broad, but
she did order that police not release information to the public.
"I know there's been a lot of media coverage in this case,"
Little said. "My big concern ... is that the police has been
leaking parts of police reports."
Popal, of Fremont, is facing life in prison if convicted of 18
felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon, a felony count
of battery on a peace officer causing injury, and a felony count
of reckless evasion from police.
The charges stem from an Aug. 29 incident in which Popal's vehicle
struck at least 14 people on city streets and sidewalks during
a busy afternoon.
Popal, wearing red clothing and chained at the waist and feet,
stared straight ahead with dropped eyelids as he entered the courtroom,
which was filled with crying family members. He rested his hands
on the podium and leaned in to whisper with Feinland, who entered
a not guilty plea, which was later rescinded.
Little then called both Feinland and Thompson into chambers as
Popal waited in the courtroom. Popal, less than 5 feet 7 inches
tall with a sturdy jaw jutting under a narrow mustache, put one
hand up in a strange gesture and turned to face the spectators.
A bailiff moved to block him and he turned back around and hung
his balding head and began reading material on the podium.
When counsel returned, the not guilty plea was stricken and both
sides agreed to delay the arraignment again until Friday when
a more complete psychiatric evaluation becomes available.
After the hearing, Popal's 31-year-old cousin Mihdi Mirzada said
his family has had trouble sleeping and working since Popal was
taken into custody.
"I saw a different side of him," said Mirzada, who
hadn't seen his cousin since last week. "I saw someone who
Two relatives of San Francisco resident Leon Stevens, a man whose
legs were broken and who suffered a hip fracture when he was run
down that afternoon at Sutter and Steiner streets, also watched
the proceedings today.
Sheena Young, Stevens' niece, sobbed uncontrollably when Popal
entered the courtroom. She said her uncle is not mad at him for
what he did and his prayers go out to him and his family.
"I felt real bad for him," Young said of Popal. "When
you see the person, it's no longer a nightmare."
Popal is also expected to be tried in Alameda County for vehicular
manslaughter stemming from a fatal hit and run that happened that
day. He is being held on no-bail status.
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