San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi sent a letter to District Attorney George Gascon and police Chief Jeff Godown today requesting a prohibition on officers using hotel master keys to enter residences.
Adachi’s request comes in the wake of surveillance videos his office has released since last week that appear to show San Francisco police using master keys to enter residential hotel rooms without a warrant or consent during drug busts.
The videos contradict the officers’ versions of events during the incidents in their police reports, sparking investigations by the Police Department, district attorney’s office and the FBI.
Eight officers have been named in the investigation, which has prompted the dismissal of at least 57 drug and robbery cases, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Adachi’s letter asks police and prosecutors to issue a general order prohibiting officers’ use of hotel master keys, arguing that past cases have held that landlords do not have the right to consent to searches for their tenants.
“A landlord may not open a door to a tenant’s apartment. By cajoling master keys from the hotel owners to engage in illegal searches, the police are subjecting these owners, and the city and county of San Francisco, to the possibilities of federal civil rights suits,” Adachi said in the letter.
“Hotel owners and employees are under the false impression that they must or should cooperate with good-faith requests of the police, but the police customary practice of abusing the use of these keys has made them unknowing and liable accomplices in these invasions of privacy,” he said.
Police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield said that Godown had read the letter. “It’s something we’re going to look into,” Dangerfield said.
“The problem with saying ‘never use a (master) key’ is well-being checks,” where family members or friends request officers to check on someone who hasn’t responded, Dangerfield said.
He said, “it’s something to look into on an individual, case-by-case basis.”
District attorney’s office spokeswoman Erica Derryck confirmed Gascon had also received the letter but declined further comment.
On Tuesday, Adachi asked the district attorney’s office to provide a list of every arrest or incident involving the accused officers for the past seven years.
He also requested copies of all the police reports from drug-related crimes at the Henry Hotel and Hotel Royan, residential hotels in the city’s South of Market and Mission neighborhoods where the videos captured the alleged police misconduct.
Four videos in all have been released by Adachi’s office, three of which show officers apparently entering residences without a warrant or consent.
The fourth video involved a man who was arrested after officers claimed they recognized him by the white and tan jacket he was wearing when he entered the Henry Hotel. The officers said they later found the jacket with crack cocaine and marijuana inside.
However, surveillance video showed that the man was wearing a black jacket when he entered the hotel just before his arrest, and the case was dismissed.
The officers named in the report are Richard Yick, Arshad Razzak, Arthur Madrid, Robert Forneris, Raul Elias, Raymond Kane, Samuel Christ, and Gregory Buhagiar.
All came from the plainclothes unit at the Police Department’s Southern Station and have been reassigned to administrative duties during the investigation.
Gascon said Wednesday that a newly formed trial integrity unit within the district attorney’s office is continuing to review all open cases and acknowledged that more cases may be dismissed as the investigation moves forward.
Adachi has said he expects many more dismissals to follow.
“These officers made two or three arrests a day,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of cases.”
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News