San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi died of cocaine and alcohol toxicity, coroner finds


San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, known for his battles for criminal justice reform and his role in a high-profile case of an accused murderer in the country illegally, died of an accidental overdose of cocaine and alcohol, the city’s medical examiner reported Friday.

Cardiovascular disease was a contributing factor in Adachi’s death last month at 59. Local political leaders at the time celebrated the former candidate for San Francisco mayor as a champion of people who otherwise had no voice in the criminal justice system.

Adachi oversaw the successful defense of a Mexican immigrant in the country illegally who was charged in the 2015 shooting death of Kate Steinle on a popular San Francisco pier.


The killing fueled a national debate about immigration because the defendant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, had been deported five times and was freed from custody under so-called sanctuary laws. He argued that the gun had accidentally discharged and that Steinle was struck when the bullet ricocheted. Zarate was acquitted of the murder charge but found guilty of felony gun possession.

Friday’s medical examiner report said the cause of Adachi’s death was “acute mixed drug toxicity,” combined with his heart condition.

Adachi had collapsed at a Telegraph Hill apartment after he dined with a friend and started having trouble breathing, according to his office. He died in a hospital.

A 2010 profile in the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted Adachi’s fight for a ballot proposition that would have required city employees to pay more toward their pensions. The measure lost. The following year, Adachi made an unsuccessful bid for mayor.

Earlier this week, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors proposed renaming a street Jeff Adachi Way to honor his contributions to the city.