A San Francisco police officer who became known as the “Hot Cop of the Castro” was either trying to avoid legal trouble or a dangerous crowd of bystanders when he fled the scene after plowing his personal Dodge Charger into two pedestrians in North Beach.
Those were the dueling stories offered jurors on the first day of the trial of Christopher Kohrs, who was off-duty at the time of the 2015 crash.
Prosecutors are seeking a felony conviction, while Kohrs’ attorneys for the first time laid out their defense: the muscular lawman felt threatened by a “very aggressive” crowd whose members recognized him as an officer thanks to his hunky online persona.
“Thousands and thousands of people knew him,” defense attorney Peter Furst told the Superior Court jury in his opening statement. “It was a good thing in the beginning, but in the context of this case, not so much.”
Kohrs, 40, is charged with two felony counts of hit and run stemming from an early morning wreck on Nov. 29, 2015.
He was behind the wheel of his orange 2009 Charger with his brother Nathan in the back seat and a friend, 45-year-old Norman Banks, sitting up front, authorities said.
The three had been clubbing at Fort One Bar and Lounge on Leavenworth Street near Fisherman’s Wharf and left around 2 a.m. While heading west on Broadway, authorities said, Kohrs hit the two male pedestrians as they crossed near Montgomery Street around 2:20 a.m., seriously injuring both.
Though he apparently had a green light, prosecutors said, Kohrs ditched his friends, the victims and his car, which had a smashed windshield, and took off on foot.
The victims, Victor Perez and Frank Vilches, were left bloodied. Vilches, who nearly died, suffered permanent disabling injuries and racked up medical bills exceeding $600,000, his attorney wrote in a lawsuit against Korhs and the city.
Eight hours went by before Kohrs turned himself into police. Prosecutors were frustrated because they couldn’t collect evidence to indicate whether Kohrs had been intoxicated while driving.
The officer was on medical leave from the department at the time due to a knee injury.
Kohrs was ordered to stand trial on two charges: hit and run causing injury and hit and run causing serious permanent injury. He has pleaded not guilty and is on unpaid administrative leave.
On Wednesday, Furst unveiled the core of his defense, contending that Kohrs ran away because he feared a “very, very aggressive” crowd of “more than 100” people that began to gather.
“This is a dangerous neighborhood,” Furst said. “Crowds form and all types of things happen.”
This crowd was focused on Kohrs, the lawyer said, because they knew him as the “Hot Cop of the Castro.”
“They said, ‘It’s the Hot Cop! F– the police!'” Furst told jurors.
Kohrs worked in the department’s Park Station for seven years. A neighborhood resident noticed his good looks and bulging biceps and began posting pictures of him on social media.
Soon, fan pages dedicated to Kohrs began cropping up and images of him went viral. Kohrs used the attention for charity, going shirtless during benefits and posing as a calendar model.
Evan Sernoffsky is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @EvanSernoffsky
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