Mayoral candidate chastises mayor, SFPD chief for keeping elected officials “in the dark.”
The police activity observed late Wednesday and early Thursday near the Occupy San Francisco encampment at Justin Herman Plaza took place on a training day, according to SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, who added that the riot gear-clad officers seen by numerous citizens were on call to be deployed to possible violence in Oakland.
This explanation did not satisfy some San Francisco elected officials, who said that letters sent to building owners Wednesday along the Embarcadero warning of police activity and the Department of Emergency Management put on alert were both signs of an impending raid.
Wednesday is historically a training day for the SFPD, Suhr explained at a City Hall press conference held in Room 200, “and we took advantage of the presence on a training day to train, too, what we may have to do down the line.”
Photos distributed via Twitter showed police massing on Potrero Hill around 10 p.m. Wednesday. The officers then crossed the Bay Bridge to Treasure Island, before returning to San Francisco sometime around 3 a.m.
They were deployed on Treasure Island because the open space is perfect for training purposes, but also to respond to a possible flare-up of violence in Oakland, Suhr said, as well as the possibility of protesters using BART or the Bay Bridge to cross to San Francisco.
There is speculation that the raid was called off by city leaders after Oakland police used tear gas and flash bang grenades to disperse the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza on Tuesday, action that left an Iraq War veteran with a critical head injury. Suhr disputed this account.
“The reason they came back is that they needed to go home,” said Suhr, who, when asked if the police were sent back to a staging area near 19th and DeHaro streets in response to activity at Justin Herman Plaza, responded, “No.”
Reports that several citizens following the police convoy in cars were detained could not immediately be confirmed by police spokesman Officer Carlos Manfredi, who added that following a patrol car is sometimes “a sign of criminal activity.”
Several dozen tents and a varying amount of protesters have been camped out on the bocce ball courts at Justin Herman Plaza along Steuart Street for most of the month, part of the demonstrations seen nationwide since an encampment sprung up in New York City in September.
San Francisco police removed the tents on Oct. 6. They returned shortly thereafter.
Late Wednesday, the crowd assembled along the Embarcadero surged past a thousand demonstrators, politicians, and community and labor leaders as rumors of an imminent raid spread.
Word first came through “city departments” throughout the evening that a police raid was imminent, said Supervisor John Avalos, who was one of several elected officials present, along with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, state Sen. Leland Yee, and Supervisors David Campos, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar.
Neither Suhr nor Lee responded to telephone calls or other messages from Avalos, Chiu or others, asking what was afoot, said Avalos, who said the mayor and the police chief demonstrated “a lack of leadership.”
“If it was just a training day, then why all the mystery?” Avalos asked. “Why send out leaflets telling people they’re subject to arrest? It’s very disingenuous.”
Both Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee deflected responsibility for the police actions. “I leave all tactical decisions up to our chief of police,” Lee told media assembled in Room 200, before adding that “we don’t want an Oakland situation to happen here.”
Suhr, for his part, said that Lee is in charge, “make no mistake about it.”
“There’s nobody more anxious about this than I am, because I don’t know when the raid is coming, either,” said Suhr, who declined to comment on the violence in Oakland, and declined to say what sort of police presence or activity could be expected in the near future.
“We only know when we’re going to go when we can see the time in the rearview mirror,” said Suhr, before departing the press conference. “We do not know that going forward.”