The FBI plans to conduct its own investigation into the alleged misconduct of police officers during at least three drug busts in San Francisco in recent months, an FBI spokeswoman said today.
Videos were released Wednesday by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who said the tapes show that police violated residents’ constitutional rights by entering their homes in two incidents at a South of Market residential hotel in December and January.
Adachi said that officers then lied about their alleged unlawful entry in police reports and in court.
Surveillance video in a third case has since been released, which Adachi’s office said today shows plainclothes officers kicking in a door at the home of a disabled man and his dog on New Year’s Eve at Hotel Royan, a residential hotel located at 405 Valencia St. in the city’s Mission District.
FBI spokeswoman Julianne Sohn said, “The FBI is conducting an independent investigation of allegations against several police officers and we have the cooperation of the San Francisco Police Department.”
A total of six officers are accused of the misconduct. Police Lt. Troy Dangerfield said the officers involved in the accusations haven’t been placed on administrative leave, but instead, “They’ve been reassigned to a non-public contact assignment, because they are just allegations at this point.”
Some of the officers in the newest footage, which was released by the public defender’s office, are among those who have been accused in the two previous incidents, according to Adachi’s office.
“This is the first in what will likely be a long line of cases involving these officers,” said Tamara Barak Aparton, spokeswoman for the public defender’s office.
On the night of the Dec. 31 incident, the video shows officers knocking on the door at the home of a 28-year-old disabled man, Barak Aparton said.
“Police wrote in their report that their badges were visible, but nowhere in the video can you see badges,” she said.
On the footage, the man apparently tries to block the door, but police kick it in. He was then arrested after police said they saw crack cocaine in plain sight, according to Adachi’s office.
“In their report, police said they checked via computer to verify that this man had a warrant for his arrest,” Barak Aparton said. “But there’s no record of them doing that until after his arrest.”
At a hearing on Thursday, prosecutors dropped the misdemeanor drug possession charges against the man, said Seth Steward, spokesman for the district attorney’s office.
In the two other busts that were potentially mishandled, which took place on Dec. 23 and Jan. 5, San Francisco police entered rooms on the fifth floor of the Henry Hotel at Sixth and Mission streets after getting tips about narcotics in the rooms, according to the public defender’s office.
In the Dec. 23 incident, four officers used a master key that can open doors of any room at Henry Hotel.
Police Officer Arshad Razzak wrote in his police report that officers knocked on the resident’s door, announced themselves and waited for a response.
After hearing no response, police used the key to slightly open the door and, without entering, told a female resident they were waiting outside until they could obtain a search warrant.
The woman then gave the officers verbal permission to search the premises while police contacted headquarters and asked for a consent form she could read, according to Razzak’s report.
A man inside the room was then arrested on suspicion of possessing 65 grams of heroin and a single rock of crack cocaine, said Deputy Public Defender Anne Irwin, who represented the suspect.
However, the surveillance video obtained by the public defender’s office from the hotel appears to show officers walking up to the door of the room, bursting in, and immediately pulling out a man and putting him in handcuffs.
In the Jan. 5 case, four officers again responded to the fifth floor of the hotel, which Adachi called a “so-called hot spot” of drug activity, and obtained the master key.
A police report written by Officer Richard Yick stated that officers were met in the hallway by a woman who voluntarily opened the door to her room.
A man who came to the door told officers he was on probation, which the officers then confirmed with dispatch before entering and searching the room, according to Yick’s report.
The man and woman were arrested after police found about 15 grams of heroin, said Deputy Public Defender Tal Klement, who represented one of the suspects.
However, the surveillance video taken on that day appears to show Yick covering the camera for about 15 seconds while other officers allegedly ordered the woman to open the door, according to Klement, who said there was never any conversation with the occupant of the room.
After obtaining the surveillance tapes, the public defender’s office “kept the fact that we had the video under wraps” as the officers testified in court that they had followed lawful procedures while searching the residences.
After the video evidence was presented to the judge, the Jan. 5 case was dismissed on Monday.
Razzak and Yick were both present in the Dec. 23 and Jan. 5 cases, according to the public defender’s office.
Barak Aparton said the four officers accused of misconduct in the three cases are Robert Forneris, Arthur Madrid, Raymond Kane, and Raul Elias.
Barak Aparton said she expects more cases against clients of the public defender will be dropped because of the alleged misconduct of these officers.
“These guys did several busts a day. They’re involved in a lot of drug cases and robberies,” she said.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who was police chief at the time of the incidents, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that the video footage was brought to his attention earlier that day, and “gives us great cause for concern.”
Given Gascon’s ties to the Police Department, Adachi had called for an outside agency like the state attorney general’s office to investigate the case.
But Gascon said he saw “absolutely no reason why I should recuse myself” from the case.
San Francisco police planned to hold a news conference this afternoon on the cases.
SaulSugarman/DanMcMenamin, Bay City News