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Career Criminals Are Causing Mayhem and Murder - Why Are They Allowed Back On Our Streets?

March 1, 2018
Martin Halloran SFPOA President

If you live or work in, or have visited San Francisco since Proposition 47, AB 109, and Proposition 57 have been enacted, then you have either witnessed the decaying quality of life in our city, the surge in the chronic homeless problem, or may have even become a victim of crime in the city of Saint Francis. These problems are not unique to San Francisco. They are happening in all major metropolitan cities in our state, and they are also affecting smaller communities. The one thing for sure is that this has not sprung up overnight.

These issues have been addressed and re-addressed by San Francisco Mayors and Police Chiefs going back to when there was “Camp Agnos” across the street from City Hall. The difference now, and many agree, is that the problem has expanded exponentially in the past three years since Prop 47, and San Francisco, like other California cities, is at a tipping point.

In the past month, there have been the so-called “normal” crime trends in the city. There have also been several egregious violent criminal acts, including murder, perpetrated by serial career criminals who quite clearly should have been incarcerated when they committed these acts. Why they were not raises questions as to failure of prosecutions by the District Attorney’s office, and lenient sentencing by Judges of the Superior Court.

On February 1st, a trio of re-offending auto burglars were at it again near Alamo Square. This is a target-rich environment for these small organized gangs who prey on tourists. Knowing this, SFPD plainclothes officers were in the area to combat the problem and arrest the offenders. When the suspects struck, the officers attempted to make the arrest. It was then that one of the suspects deliberately and intentionally ran over a police officer while fleeing the scene (see the link to the video on page 13). Property crime, it is said, is only a non-violent offense? Wrong! This was an attempted murder of a police officer. Thankfully the officer is out of the hospital, and all three suspects were arrested.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that all three suspects have an extensive criminal history record, including first and second degree burglary, violent felonies, and one suspect was tried for murder.

On February 10th another career auto burglar, strong-arm robber, commercial robber, serial theft artist, drug addict, batterer, probation violator, and vandal named Wakeen Best, who had a stay away order from the Stockton Street Garage, committed a particularly heinous crime. While he was burglarizing a vehicle in the Stockton Street Garage, the small defenseless four year old Chihuahua in the car, who was undoubtedly extremely frightened, began to bark out of pure fear. What was this spineless cowards solution to being fronted out by a ten pound pooch? Best took the terrified dog and threw it off the seventh floor of the parking garage where it fell to its death.

Officers responded to the calls of the distraught owner who found their beloved animal dead on the street. An investigation ensued and less than 24 hours later an arrest was made. Once again it was not surprising that Best had a RAP sheet that would make anyone wonder why this heartless individual was out on the streets at all.

Going back to 2003, once Best was an adult, his arrests started with auto burglary and those arrests continued and progressed into all of the aforementioned offenses. What his RAP sheet also reveals is that many of the arrests of Best were not charged or filed with the District Attorney’s office or they were plead out to a lesser offense which resulted in limited incarceration. The RAP sheet also demonstrates that some of the time sentences handed down were not completely fulfilled, or he was released early for unknown reasons. Best has now been charged with a number of serious felonies and thankfully the District Attorney’s office office has filed on the case. If there is one thing a jury — and hopefully a Judge — won’t tolerate, even in San Francisco, is the deliberate and intentionally abuse of a defenseless animal. Best needs to be off of the streets of our city.

We now come to the poster child of a serial career criminal who runs the gamut of violent and non-violent crimes, but yet was incredibly out on the streets on February 17th to perpetuate his own individual deadly crime spree. Joel Armstrong’s criminal history record at 31 years of age almost defies belief and it would make anyone wonder how or why this guy is able to be roaming free among us.

Armstrong’s adult arrests go back to when he was 19 years of age. Starting with drugs and then graduating over the next dozen years to resisting arrest, assault with a deadly weapon, battery, vandalism, armed robbery, possession of burglary tools, felon in possession of a firearm, more drugs, more aggravated assault, more felon in possession of a firearm, violation of parole, possession of a deadly weapon/shotgun, receiving stolen property, possession of a concealed firearm, possession of methamphetamine for sale, criminal threats, exhibiting a deadly weapon, more parole violations, smuggling controlled substances in jail, more battery, contempt of court, possession of stolen property, more parole violations, driving with a suspended license (the DMV will get him on that one), more parole violations, carjacking, kidnapping with another armed robbery, and finally on February 17th murder along with felon in possession of a firearm and attempted murder of several police officers.

Armstrong should have been serving time in state prison for a carjacking/kidnapping/armed robbery offense which he was found guilty of in 2017 but thanks to AB 109 and flash incarceration (10 days or less in custody) he was back on the streets with a firearm when he allegedly killed a transient on Oak Street and shot a friend of that individual. Armstrong was located soon afterwards by SFPD officers and he decided to shoot it out with them at DeHaro and Alameda Streets. He lost, and is now in custody with charges filed by the DA. Let’s see if this goes to trial.

Why was a violent convicted felon like Armstrong or even Best able to game the system, get multiple slaps on the wrist, or no charges filed by the District Attorney’s office on previous cases, or get extremely light sentences by some Judges? The perpetual kicking the can down the road in hopes that some of these predator criminals will somehow self-rehabilitate. It’s madness.

Keep in mind that these are only three highlighted cases in a one month period. Sadly, similar incidents of career felons committing violent acts on our residents and our officers are happening every month.

Due process, for all, and innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of our justice system. Law enforcement officers believe in that, but where do we draw the line between protecting the general public from violent felons and the coddling of career criminals in hopes of rehabilitation? The public should not be made the guinea pig in this experiment which appears to be failing.