SAN FRANCISCO—Officials from the San Francisco Police Department are investigating the death of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, 59, who died unexpectedly on Friday, February 22. According to reports, Adachi is believed to have died from a heart attack, but an official cause of death has not yet been disclosed to the public.

Adachi began his career in 1987, as a deputy public defender and went on to become a five-time elected public defender for the city.

A spokeswoman for the public defender’s office indicated on Saturday, February 23 that Adachi was having dinner with a friend in North Beach Friday night when he began to have trouble breathing. He was brought to an apartment near Coit Tower, and taken to a local hospital, where he died before 7 p.m. A woman by the name “Caterina” made the 911 call from Adachi’s phone, but her whereabouts are still unknown.

He was recently elected for his fifth term in January 2019.  Adachi oversaw the creation of the Clean Slate Program, which helps clear the records of approximately 2,000 clients per year. Mayor Breed praised the office’s MAGIC programs – Mobilization For Adolescent Growth In our Communities—as well as efforts the Public Defender made to get rid off costly fines and fees associated with clients’ cases, a model that is being replicated nationally.

After Adachi raised his right hand took his oath of office, promising to “well and faithfully” fulfill his duties, he said that the day’s significance had left him “speechless, which I never am.”

Colleagues of Adachi paid tribute to the city worked and his family via social media.  California Representative Eric Swalwell tweeted on Friday, “San Francisco has lost a great lawyer in #JeffAdachi. As Public Defender, he fiercely fought for his clients, making sure the government met its Constitutional burden of proof in every case. He died too young. But his vigor will live on. Rest In Peace.”

Mayor London Breed issued the following statement regarding the passing of Adachi:

“I am saddened to announce that San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi passed away tonight. My heart goes out to his wife, Matsuko, his daughter, Lauren, and all his friends and family.

As one of the few elected public defenders in our country, Jeff always stood up for those who didn’t have a voice, have been ignored and overlooked, and who needed a real champion. He was committed not only to the fight for justice in the courtroom, but he was also a relentless advocate for criminal justice reform. Jeff led the way on progressive policy reforms, including reducing recidivism, ending cash bail, and standing up for undocumented and unrepresented children.

San Francisco has lost a dedicated public servant, and our communities have lost a champion.”

Mayor London N. Breed and the family of Jeff Adachi revealed that there will be a public memorial service at San Francisco City Hall for Adachi on Monday, March 4 at 11 a.m. The service will be open to the public.

“On Monday, we will gather together to celebrate Jeff Adachi’s life, his work, and the lasting impact he will have on our City and our criminal justice system,” said Mayor Breed. “I am honored to invite the people of San Francisco to come to City Hall to join us in recognizing and remembering Jeff, who fought hard in the community and in the courtroom, and who was a true public servant.”

Written By Hilary Doresy and Donald Roberts