Police investigating attempt to steal SF school board recall petitions

This actually happened about two weeks ago but it just got covered in the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday. The backstory here is that a group of parents in San Francisco have launched a recall petition aimed at three members of the school board. Fed up with the board’s focus on renaming schools (on the grounds that current names are racist) and ending merit based admissions to Lowell High School (on the grounds that meritocracy is racist), the group is trying get Board President Gabriela Lopez, former Board VP Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga recalled. They have been collecting signatures to get the issue on the ballot.

Enter this unnamed man in the grey shirt who offered to sign one of the petitions and then ran off with the clipboard and several pages of signatures.

Man Kit Lam, a volunteer for the campaign to recall three members of the San Francisco Board of Education, said that the alleged thief, described by witnesses as a male appearing to be in his 20s and wearing red glasses, tried to steal roughly 20 signed petitions from his table at 3rd Avenue and Clement Street on Sunday. As Lam turned to assist another signator, the suspect grabbed and walked away with at least one clipboard full of signed recall petitions, he said.

“All of a sudden, I noticed at least one clipboard was gone,” Lam told Here/Say. “I saw him—he was across the street—and he was tossing the clipboard underneath a vehicle.”

Lam, a SFUSD parent, immigrant from Hong Kong, and former anti-corruption investigator, walked across the street and confronted the suspect. Exclusive video shows the alleged thief initially arguing with Lam and denying wrongdoing. Moments later, however, the suspect produces what appears to be a batch of petitions from his jeans and hands it over, saying: “You caught me.”

What the video of the incident shows is actually worse than this sounds. It picks up after the man has tossed away the clipboard and Man Kit Lam is confronting him demanding he give the signatures back.

“You took the petitions I saw you,” shouted Lam in the video.

“I was shocked and angry at the same time,” Lam told ABC7 News.

And at that moment, if you watch the clip closely (30 seconds in) you’ll notice the man seems to be putting his hand behind his back to adjust something. Then he said, “I looked at it, I decided I didn’t want it anymore I don’t have s**t.” The man then walked with Lam across the street to where he’d dumped the clipboard.

“There you go, you got it back. I’m sorry,” the man said as someone else picked up the clipboard and handed it back to Lam. Again, the man starts to walk away.

But Lam isn’t fooled. “Where is the other one,” he shouts. Finally, the man in grey reaches behind his back and pulls out a set of folded petitions he’d stuffed back there. He was hoping he could throw aside the clipboard and walk off with the actual petitions. So when he was saying “I don’t have s**t” they were actually stuffed in his pants. But now, finally, he realizes he’s been caught and he gives them up.

Lam continued to follow him for a bit, wanting the man to wait until police came but the thief threatened to sue Lam. Here’s the full clip:

Stealing petition signatures is a crime. San Francisco police told HereSay back on June 3 that they were investigating the theft. There don’t appear to be any updates since then. My guess is this will get a complete pass, especially since the guy did eventually give back the documents. That’s too bad because he did all he could to get away with this. If not for Man Kit Lam getting in his face and demanding them back repeatedly he would have simply walked away.