The San Francisco Police Department has identified 75 current employees, 61 of them officers on the street, with prior misconduct issues that need to be disclosed to defense attorneys, Chief George Gascon said today.
The announcement is the Police Department’s first quantified public acknowledgement of the scope of the problem, after months of speculation.
The department began implementing its disclosure, or “Brady,” protocol in August as part of a series of reforms Gascon made following last year’s drug lab scandal.
According to Gascon, 75 current employees have been placed on a list of people whose misconduct must be disclosed to the district attorney’s office and then to defense attorneys if they are called to testify in court.
“The conduct in many cases is very, very minor, or very old,” in some cases dating back to 1967, Gascon said. He said 70 percent of the cases are 10 years or older.
Under a precedent set by a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brady v. Maryland, prosecutors are obligated to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence, including that which could call into question the credibility of witnesses such as police officers, to the defense.
Such evidence could include a testifying officer’s prior disciplinary action or criminal conviction. The names are kept confidential, and a judge would decide in a closed hearing whether to allow the testimony or not.
Gascon said 61 officers on the list work in positions that require them to be in contact with the public, such as patrol officers or inspectors. The other 14 have either already been shifted to administrative jobs or are on medical leave.
Removing 61 officers from street duty because their testimony could damage prosecutions might represent a threat to public safety, but Gascon said none of the officers’ conduct warranted removal.
“So those people are in public contact, and will continue to be,” he said.
Some are appealing their addition to the list, he added.
Twenty other employees who were identified as having misconduct issues have since either retired, quit, or been fired, according to Gascon.
The issue came to light early last year, when it was revealed that a former San Francisco Police Department drug lab employee, Deborah Madden, had admitted to taking small amounts of cocaine from evidence.
The drug lab was since closed, though the crime lab’s DNA, firearms and fingerprint labs remain in operation.
In addition to questions about the lab’s activities overall, it was later disclosed that police had not told prosecutors about Madden’s prior misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence in 2008.
That information was required to be turned over to the defense and could have called into question Madden’s court testimony in drug cases.
Gascon stressed that 61 officers out of the department’s total of about 2,260 was a very small percentage.
“Frankly, I would speculate that if you went to any Police Department around the country, the numbers would be at least that, and in many cases, much higher than that,” he said.
San Francisco’s development of formalized policies on Brady disclosure is rare. Only Los Angeles and Ventura County have similar protocols in California, Gascon said.
He acknowledged resistance from police unions on the issue, as well as the possibility that defense attorneys could still use the material to challenge court cases.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi has been outspoken about the need for Brady material to be released to his office.
“We encourage that they take a very assertive review of this,” Gascon said. “If there are cases where there is a problem, we need to know.”
Gascon was scheduled to brief the police commission on the issue Wednesday night.
Ari Burack, Bay City News