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Murder charges dropped in killing of Harvey Weinstein’s private detective

Private Investigator Jack Palladino is pictured on Aug. 12, 1982. | Eric Luse/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The case against two men charged with the murder of a famous private investigator in a 2021 incident in front of his San Francisco home has been dismissed, according to one of the suspect’s attorneys. 

Lawrence Thomas, of Pittsburg, and Tyjone Flournoy, of San Francisco, were charged with murder for the alleged killing of Jack Palladino on Page Street in front of his Haight-Ashbury home on Jan. 28, 2021. 

"The prosecution did the ethical thing in dismissing these charges, as none of the physical evidence corroborated the early assumptions reported by an unreliable witness,” Kleigh Hathaway, Thomas' attorney, said. “It’s important for us, as Mr. Thomas’s legal team, to help clear his name after a flurry of misinformation was reported in the wake of Mr. Palladino’s death.”

San Francisco police initially said that one of the two men tried to grab Palladino’s camera in a robbery attempt, which caused Palladino to fall and hit his head. The 76-year-old remained in critical condition before dying four days after the incident.

Investigator Jack Palladino | Lea Suzuki/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case Wednesday because a key witness changed his testimony while on the stand, and no DNA evidence was discovered on the camera and its strap, deputy public defender Hathaway said.

"The District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against Fluornoy and Thomas after a witness recanted their testimony while under oath during a preliminary hearing.  When the witness recanted, the case was re-evaluated and after determining we could no longer meet our burden of proof, we were ethically obligated to dismiss this case," Randy Quezada, a spokesperson for the DA, said.

The evidence showed a series of events did not occur in the way police described, Hathaway said.

The last photo taken by Palladino that day led police to the two men who were ultimately charged with the crime, but that image and a witness statement by a passing dog walker, who claimed he saw the men try to take Palladino’s camera, were found to be misinterpreted, Hathaway said.

Instead, Hathaway said Palladino walked out of his home with the camera in hand, not wrapped around his shoulder, as surveillance footage from nearby later proved. An altercation then occurred between Palladino and the two defendants, who were driving quickly on a slow street. After the interaction, the two men drove their car away and Palladino followed for about 20 feet, banging on the top of its roof. He eventually fell, lost his balance and hit his head. 

Mike Bryant, the dog walker who initially told police that one of the men had grabbed Palladino’s camera, said in testimony that he’d been mistaken about his statement, Hathaway said, adding that Bryant testified he had not seen the incident, only its aftermath. 

Hathaway said the lack of DNA evidence on the camera and strap also defied the prosecution’s theory.

The DA did not immediately respond for comment, as was the case with Palladino’s widow and son.

A Storied Career

Boston-born Palladino’s storied career began in the Bay Area after he founded a detective agency with his wife, Sandra Sutherland, in the 1970s. In that decade they worked on the Patty Hearst kidnapping and interviewed Jonestown Massacre survivors.

Palladino also worked for auto magnate John DeLorean on drug charges, and to discredit sexual misconduct allegations against Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein.

In a 1999 San Francisco Examiner profile of Palladino, he said he “built a reputation for aggressive investigations, an in-your-face style and the ability to neutralize adverse witnesses and spin hostile media.”

“I’m not a self-effacing individual,” the Examiner story quoted him as saying. “I am a driven, arrogant person who holds himself and everyone around him to incredibly high standards. I’m very difficult in private life. I don’t live for anything but this.”

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at jonah@sfstandard.com