On the same week that the City has agreed to pay $385,000 in an excessive force case involving a medical school student, SF Police Chief Gascon is seeking to have several cases against certain officers dismissed, as part of a proposed amnesty program.
The police chief told the Chronicle that he wants to see the majority of approximately 75 cases before the Police Commission come to an end, with little or no punishment for these cases. All are minor discipline cases, where officers have been charged for things such as use of inappropriate language, failing to properly fill out a police report, or conducting improper drunk-driving tests.
The majority of the cases dismissed in the amnesty program would be for officers who are first-time offenders. Other more serious cases would be seen through, but could also end in termination.
“There’s a very small group of people in the department whose history is irredeemable,” said the chief. “We have a moral and ethical obligation to say enough is enough.”
Gascon is currently holding discussions with the Police Commission and Police Officers Association to attempt to clear these pending cases.
Currently, there are two forms to investigate misconduct by an officer: the Office of Citizen Complaints deals with on-duty violations of police conduct policies, and the Police Department’s management control division deals with off duty misconduct. Both forms of investigation can result in a case before the Police Commission.
Such cases can last up to several years, allowing the charged officers to continue getting paid for their job.
Commission president Joe Marshall says, “Our system makes discipline a long, slow process and nobody’s happy with that.”
Gascon’s attempt to seek amnesty for these cases has arrived as the City agreed to pay $385,000 to a medical student in an excessive force case. Mehrdad Alemozaffar filed a suit against Officer Jesse Serna and other officers, who tased him multiple times, told him to “stop acting like a girl” and tackled him to the ground in December of 2006.
The settlement is much less than the original $2 million law suit filed against the officers; Alemozaffar agreed to settle, in order to avoid the risk of tarnishing his developing career in the medical field.
This is not the first time Serna has been charged for misconduct, but other cases against him have also been settled or dropped. It’s incidents such as these that lead me to think that misconduct cases such as Serna’s, lead officers to think that they are larger than life- and that their actions therefore have little or no consequences.
In the wake of Chief Gascon’s proposed amnesty, we have to ask ourselves, is allowing the Police Commission to dismiss smaller, “insignificant” cases truly the best decision for the people of San Francisco? What consequences could this possibly bring?
It is important to remember that teams such as the Police Commission are formed to balance out the power of police officers, so that incidents such as Alemozaffar’s and the shooting of Oscar Grant do not continue to occur — and that an independent assessment of the BART police conditions leading up to Grant’s shooting cited exactly this type of lack of accountability as a contributing factor in the events of this past New Year’s Eve.
The smallest and most minute fracture can seem insignificant while being dismissed, but it is these small incidents that lead to larger issues that skyrocket into enormous consequences, such as the shooting of Oscar Grant.
I wonder how many more “Oscar Grants” will pay the price of police misconduct and aggression before people begin to realize that every small infraction does indeed count.