San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released a video today that he said shows police officers improperly searched the room of a man at a Tenderloin residential hotel during a December drug bust and took a duffel bag out of his room that was never accounted for afterward.
The surveillance footage is the latest in a string of videos released by Adachi since March that he said shows police misconduct.
Dozens of drug and robbery cases have been dropped due to the allegations, which have prompted the Police Department to put eight plainclothes officers on administrative duty.
The video released today is of a drug bust on Dec. 30 at the Jefferson Hotel, located at 440 Eddy St., which led to the arrest of 48-year-old Fernando Santana.
Police, in a report written by Officer Jacob Fegan, said they saw Santana buy narcotics outside the hotel and then go back inside. Once inside the hotel, officers detained Santana and found crack cocaine in his possession, according to the report.
The report said Santana told the officers that they could search his room as well, but at a news conference at the public defender’s office this afternoon, Santana denied that was the case.
Santana also said he was misled hours later into signing a form consenting to the search of his room, saying he did not have his eyeglasses on and was not told what he was signing, according to Adachi.
According to the police report, inside the room the officers found a digital scale and other drug paraphernalia, and Officer Ricardo Guerrero took the evidence into custody.
However, the surveillance footage shown at today’s news conference shows Guerrero leaving the room with a black duffel bag that none of the officers had when they entered the room and Santana said was his.
Santana could not find the bag when he got out of jail and filed a police report because he suspected hotel staff had taken it, along with several other items from his room, including some Christmas presents he had received.
But Adachi said, “It wasn’t until we received the video that we saw officers took the bag,” since the police report made no mention of the bag or any of the other items.
“I never imagined it would be police officers that did it,” Santana said. “I’ve been through the wringer … I’ve spent three months accusing the staff of the building of stealing my property and it wasn’t them.”
Adachi said, “This is extremely alarming … there’s absolutely no justification for that bag being taken out of that room.”
Santana’s drug case was dismissed by a San Francisco Superior Court judge last Thursday after another one of the officers who arrested him, Robert Sanchez, failed to show up for the preliminary hearing.
Deputy Public Defender Qiana Washington, who was representing Santana, said she was prepared to show the surveillance video in court at the hearing, but the judge had already dismissed the case due to Sanchez’s absence.
The video released today also showed another man, Joseph Mierisch, who was apparently put in a chokehold by police after walking by Santana’s room while officers were searching it and asking where his friend was. (You can see this at about 6:36 into the video above.)
“I didn’t see any badges … I thought they were breaking into his room,” Mierisch said.
The video shows officers putting him in a chokehold in the hallway outside Santana’s room. The police report said Mierisch was only briefly detained and released at the scene, but he said he still has a sore throat due to being put in the chokehold.
Adachi said Santana’s case is “a continuation of what we’ve seen” in the previous videos from drug busts at residential hotels in the city’s South of Market and Mission neighborhoods in December and January.
That footage appears to show officers entering rooms without a warrant or consent, contradicting what was written in the officers’ reports.
Eight plainclothes officers from the Police Department’s Southern Station were put on administrative duty, and plainclothes operations at the station have been suspended indefinitely.
The FBI is investigating the alleged misconduct by those officers, and Adachi said his office is reviewing thousands of past and current cases involving those officers to see if more should be dismissed or if convictions should be overturned.
The officers from the latest video were from the Mission Station and remain on their regular assignments, according to police spokesman Sgt. Mike Andraychak.
Police Chief Greg Suhr, who was sworn in just two weeks ago as the city’s top cop, was made aware of the latest video this morning and has initiated an investigation by the Police Department’s internal affairs unit, Andraychak said.
“He instructed them to give this matter high priority to determine if there’s any merit to these allegations,” but cautioned that the officers are entitled to due process and should be presumed innocent until found guilty, Andraychak said.
The latest video, as well as the previous ones of alleged misconduct, are available at www.youtube.com/sfpublicdefender.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News