Skip to main content

San Francisco official pleads not guilty to sexual assault charges

A view of a back of man in an orange jumpsuit walking away from the camera being led by a man in a sheriff's uniform.
Sheriff's Department Oversight Board Member William Monroe Palmer is seen at the Hall of Justice at San Francisco Superior Court on Monday. | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

San Francisco Sheriff's Department Oversight Board member William Monroe Palmer pleaded not guilty in court Monday to charges related to an alleged sexual assault reported on Sept. 1.

Palmer appeared in court alongside his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Sylvia Cediel, who said there is no physical evidence that a sexual assault took place. 

“I believe he will be exonerated,” she said after court. “Mr. Palmer is a valued member of our community, and I would ask and hope that these allegations do not overshadow his immense and ongoing contributions.” 

Palmer, who had two community supporters in the courtroom, will remain in jail without bail and is next set to appear for his preliminary hearing on Nov. 28.

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin has, in the meantime, requested Palmer resign from his position on the Sheriff's Department Oversight Board.

The arrest of the 53-year-old stems from a report of a sexual assault on Aug. 30, according to the San Francisco Police Department. Palmer was arrested Thursday on Scott Street. 

A profile photos of a woman holding documents in a courtroom hallway setting.
Deputy Public Defender Sylvia Cediel speaks outside of the San Francisco Superior Court, where her client, William Monroe Palmer was arraigned. | Jonah Owen Lamb | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

Palmer is alleged to have sexually and physically assaulted a woman in his home, after offering her a ride to a nearby BART station, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Palmer was ordered to stay away from the alleged victim, who was not named.

Palmer was appointed to the oversight board by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. In May, his term was extended to 2027. Palmer was also appointed by the Board of Supervisors to San Francisco’s Sentencing Commission.

Palmer was released from prison in 2019 after serving 31 years for a failed robbery-turned-kidnapping. The California Supreme Court ruled that 23 of those years amounted to “excessive punishment,” according to his biography on the Sheriff's Department Oversight Board’s website. 

Palmer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison at 17 after he tried to rob an off-duty police officer by taking him at gunpoint to an ATM. The off-duty cop then shot at Palmer numerous times, hitting him in the knee. Palmer was later arrested. His gun was found to be unloaded. 

A portrait of William Palmer with a colorful striped background.
A screen grab shows William Palmer, a member of the Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board, who was arrested on sexual assault charges. | Source: SFGov

“Thirty-two years ago, William Palmer broke the law,” his lawyers wrote in their filings arguing for his release. “He was reckless and impulsive and created a dangerous situation. He was also 17. Thankfully no one was physically injured by his ill-advised actions.”

Palmer has been the subject of a number of articles, including a Washington Post piece that focused on issues with state parole and Palmer’s run-ins with the system since his release. That story detailed Palmer’s attempts to reintegrate with society, noting, for example, that he had developed an original one-man play with the Returned Citizens Theatre Troupe, a collective of former prisoners-turned-actors. It also explained how Palmer wound up back in jail after a fender-bender in 2020.

Palmer’s biography on the oversight board’s website says that since his release from prison, he has advocated for social reforms, mentored youth and advocated for parole reform.

In addition, the bio says that he has had challenges reentering society. 

The seat held by Palmer on the board is designated for someone who has been through the criminal justice system. 

In his application for the position, he wrote that it is “imperative that voices of those that were formerly incarcerated” be on the oversight board. 

“I bring an essential perspective,” he continued, “as an individual [who] was formerly incarcerated and as an individual who personally navigated the struggles of reintegration and works daily to assist others in their transition from the criminal justice system into society.”

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at