San Francisco police Chief Jeff Godown said today that plainclothes operations at the department’s Southern Station have been suspended pending an investigation into allegations of police misconduct during at least three drug bust cases in recent months.
Six officers have been reassigned to administrative jobs while the FBI and the district attorney’s office investigate accusations that police unlawfully entered residents’ homes to seize drugs, Godown said in a news conference this afternoon at the Hall of Justice.
He said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has made investigations “very difficult” by not immediately submitting footage to police of the drug busts. The footage allegedly shows discrepancies between the video and what was written on police reports and said in court testimony by officers.
“It makes it very difficult for us to conduct the investigation if I have to watch the TV to find out what’s happening with my Police Department,” he said.
Adachi’s spokeswoman Tamara Barak Aparton said the public defender’s office believes the footage was meant for everyone to see.
“We felt it was important that everyone witnessed this, the police and the public,” she said. “We trust police officers. We pay their salaries. Why shouldn’t people know if their conduct is honest or not?”
Video was released to the media Wednesday by Adachi, who said the footage 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.
Another video surfaced from the public defender’s office on Thursday, which 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, Barak Aparton said.
Barak Aparton said that while older footage had been released to authorities before to showing it to the media, the newest video went live on Adachi’s YouTube channel only moments after his office received it.
In the Dec. 31 incident, police were unable to show records of verifying that the 28-year-old man had a warrant on him for drug possession until after he was arrested, according to Adachi’s office.
“These are some of the most serious allegations I’ve heard of,” said Police Commissioner Jim Hammer, who also spoke at the news conference this afternoon.
“If it’s true that if you lie in the course of your duties, it’s very, very serious. It undermines the competence and integrity of the entire department,” Hammer said.
Adachi’s office named six officers who are believed to be involved in the alleged misconduct. They are Robert Forneris, Arthur Madrid, Raymond Kane, Raul Elias, Arshad Razzak, and Richard Yick.
“This is the first in what will likely be a long line of cases involving these officers,” Barak Aparton said.
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.
A police report by Razzak of the Dec. 23 bust said officers received verbal permission to enter a home before seizing drugs, but footage released by Adachi’s office shows police allegedly bursting through the door.
Likewise on Jan. 5, a report by Yick said a woman voluntarily opened the door to her room for police to search, but video from the public defender’s office shows Yick covering the camera for about 15 seconds and allegedly ordering the woman to open the door.
After the video evidence was presented to the judge, the Jan. 5 case was dismissed on Monday. A day later, the Dec. 23 case was dropped by prosecutors. On Thursday, the New Year’s Eve case was also dismissed.
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.
The FBI plans to conduct its own investigation into the alleged misconduct of the police officers, spokeswoman Julianne Sohn said today.
Godown said as part of the Police Department’s investigation, all plainclothes operations will be audited and evaluated.
He said he has no intention of suspending any of the other 35 plainclothes operations in the city, but planned to meet with supervisors of the operations this afternoon to remind them of department policy.
Saul Sugarman, Bay City News