Jack Palladino on life support after attempted robbery in front of his home
The 70-year-old investigator, who had clients from Hollywood stars to Black Panthers to whistle-blowers over the decades, had just stepped outside his Page Street home Thursday shortly before 5 p.m. when a car pulled up, a man jumped out and tried to steal his expensive camera, police and witnesses said.
“As the suspect pulled on the camera, the victim fell to the pavement,” SFPD spokesman Robert Rueca said. Police had few other details and said no suspects had been arrested.
The robbery attempt led to Palladino, an avid photographer, falling and hitting his head on the pavement, causing a traumatic head injury, his step son Nick Chapman told The Chronicle. Chapman said his stepfather is “not expected to survive” after doctors performed surgery to try stopping the massive bleeding.
Palladino had one final case he was wrapping up, Chapman said, but he had pretty much joined his wife and fellow detective Sandra Sutherland in retirement. The pair had conducted investigations out of their Victorian home for decades, and he had big-name clients including Don Johnson, Kevin Costner, Robin Williams, Huey Newton, Snoop Dogg, carmaker John DeLorean and a 14-year-old boy who won a multimillion-dollar civil settlement against Michael Jackson for alleged molestation.
He also worked for former President Bill Clinton, who according to a top aide hired the pair in 1992 to help quell rumors of his extramarital affairs, and Harvey Weinstein, who used the investigators to squash sexual misconduct allegations.
A witness, Parisha Pak, said she was walking down Page Street when she heard a speeding car. Next she heard a loud thud and saw a man being dragged next to the car. She ran to his side.
“He was in bad shape,” she said. “He was bleeding from his head and nose.”
A group of passersby huddled around Palladino. Someone put a coat over him to keep him warm and another person flagged down a passing fire truck. A young woman held his hand.
“I looked into his eyes and I told him he was going to be OK,” Pak said. “I just kept repeating that.”
The avid photographer had just left his house to capture candid shots of people in his neighborhood with his new camera, a longtime hobby, Chapman said.
“He had just stepped out front,” Chapman said. “The front door wasn’t even fully closed.”
Palladino has had a storied career that began even before he graduated for UC Berkeley’s law school when the family of Patty Hearst hired him to assist in her 1974 kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army.
He and his wife started a private detective agency Palladino & Sutherland and he quickly found high-profile cases.
He spent seven years investigating the 1978 mass suicide of more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple religious cult, interviewing surviving members and their families.
In the 1980s, he helped with the defense of DeLorean, the inventor of the flashy sports car who had been charged with cocaine trafficking to fund his company. After more than 200 witness interviews, the jury acquitted the car maker.
In the 1990s, he ran a counter-investigation to the tobacco industry’s campaign to smear whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigan. Palladino’s work protected Wigan’s credibility as an expert witness in a lawsuit that resulted in a $200 billion settlement, the first successful courtroom win against Big Tobacco. He would play himself in the subsequent film “The Insider” on the Wigan story.
Work and home life often merged. Chapman remembered as a child having Hells Angels leader Sonny Barger take him to school in a lemon yellow limousine. The biker gang were clients.
“He was incredibly good at his job,” Chapman said. “He and my mom at one point were the premier private investigators.”
After San Francisco porn king Jim Mitchell killed his brother Artie in 1991, Palladino was hired by Jim Mitchell’s defense team and worked alongside private investigator Eric Mason in the sensational murder case.
Rocker Courtney Love hired Palladino to talk to journalists investigating whether she played a role in the 1994 death of her husband, singer Kurt Cobain.
In 2017, as movie mogul Weinstein’s sexual misconduct allegations percolated, the New Yorker detailed how an “army of spies” employed by lawyers worked to squelch victims from speaking. Palladino was one of them.
The usually talkative Palladino sent The Chronicle a brief statement at the time, saying that “the credibility of witnesses and the verifiability of allegations are always at issue in litigation. That is not only our firm’s particular expertise as investigators, but our legal and ethical due process obligation in the representation of our clients.”
Chapman said he didn’t know details of his stepfather’s work for Weinstein, but said he knew where to draw the line, especially with potential victims of abuse.
“We were not a firm interested in doing shady s— for anybody,” Chapman said.
As his caseload wound down, Palladino would read more nonfiction and short stories and walk in his neighborhood to photograph the community.
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