SF Police Indictments, Civic Duty and Justice
March 1, 2003 10:19 AM   Subscribe

"I'm the commander in chief of this goddam place, and there is no way the command staff of my Police Department is going to step down at this time. It's a matter of public safety."

So responded San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown to the indictments of ten SFPD members, which included Police Chief Earl Sanders. The convictions were passed after police officers assaulted two men who wouldn't hand over a bag of steak fajitas. Top brass deliberately delayed handing over records to the DA. Has Brown committed political suicide standing by an old friend? Are his words a realistic portrayal of municipal operations? And what does an indicted command staff still on the job say about justice being served?
posted by ed (21 comments total)
Is this the same Willie Brown that does 120 on the freeway, as the S.F. cops allow him to pass with no question?
posted by the fire you left me at 10:42 AM on March 1, 2003

Fajitas? Not donuts?
posted by Shane at 10:56 AM on March 1, 2003

Brown's out of the next election due to term limits anyway, but I don't think he would handle it any other way.
I didn't vote for the dirtbag.
I've never seen a SF cop that wasn't professional and courteous, so I have no bone to pick with the guys on the street. But if the brass covered for a piece of shit like Fagan (read the department memos), they need to be given a good hard boot in the ass and their pensions sued out from under them.
posted by 2sheets at 11:12 AM on March 1, 2003

look! a guy made a donut joke! about cops! lol!
posted by angry modem at 11:14 AM on March 1, 2003

Yup. He's an angry young modem, that 'un.
posted by Shane at 11:28 AM on March 1, 2003

I think the question that really needs to be asked here is who the hell gets fajitas in a bag?

posted by Kafkaesque at 11:54 AM on March 1, 2003

you lose the appeal when they aren't still sizzlin'. of all the porr-takeout-transition foods, fajitas have got to be the worst. except for oysters and anything involving fire and ice cream.

angry modem: look! cops beat people up for no good reason! imagine that!wow!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:12 PM on March 1, 2003

posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:13 PM on March 1, 2003

This is going to get down and dirty. The DA (up for reelection) has a runaway grand jury on his hands. He's stuck his neck way out there on this. The chief is a legendary civil rights advocate and best buddy of the mayor. The defense attorney is the DA's major competition in the election. All I can say is, you'd better have a bullet proof case if you're going to make the chief of police stand trial.

I also wonder if 2 drunk cops beating up a bartender for some mexican food is the kind of thing that deserves a remedy like this. I'm not sticking up for the cops, but I have to think the DA is taking a pretty big risk. He'll win or lose the election over this. And meawhile, SFPD is in chaos. Business as usual in SF.
posted by pejamo at 12:28 PM on March 1, 2003

pejamo, I think the state (AG Lockyer will take this case over to minimize the politics. Not that he isn't a buddy of Brown's too....
posted by billsaysthis at 12:37 PM on March 1, 2003

It's like ed thinks the SF city government isn't hopelessly corrupt! How cute. :-)
posted by rusty at 12:50 PM on March 1, 2003

Don't forget that Herrerra and Brown aren't exactly the best of friends. Nor is Terrance and Willie. The anticipated wheeling and dealing here may make Willie Brown rival Willie Stark for sheer chutzpah. Though how much we'll hear about it, given Brown's utter secrecy, is scant at best.

But beyond that, I probably shouldn't have mentioned fajitas. Thread DOA.
posted by ed at 2:08 PM on March 1, 2003

rusty: It's like ed actually thought we'd discuss the SF city government instead of the fajitas! How cute. :-)
posted by quonsar at 2:50 PM on March 1, 2003

hmmm...the bagged fajita caper.

Karl Malden would be proud
posted by clavdivs at 3:02 PM on March 1, 2003

Without knowing what evidence the grand jury heard, it's premature to label them as "runaway". They may well have hear more than what's made it into the press about the coverup, though what's been reported is pretty damning.
posted by dws at 3:32 PM on March 1, 2003

I like the "at this time" part. It's like he's saying "we're fighting the war on terrorism here, folks. Police officers must be able to assault fajita-bearers with impunity."
posted by spazzm at 4:09 PM on March 1, 2003

I guess that's Brown's equivalent of the famous Lyndon Johnson crack: "Sure he's a SOB, but he's our SOB!"
posted by clevershark at 4:14 PM on March 1, 2003

I've known people on the SFPD force, now retired, who could talk all day about the layers of corruption within the department. I always figured it was no more, no less than in other police departments; however, SFPD leadership and police commission members are all political appointees. There is currently a proposal to merge SFPD with the sheriff's office in order to gain more oversight.

In any case, since this happened the police department and the mayor have been playing it politically. A day or two after it happened, Brown made an announcement that it was just a typical street brawl (although this street brawl involved two unarmed civilians against three trained, possibly armed, off-duty police officers, one of whom is the assistant chief's son, who also happens to have had a history of disciplinary problems, though he is fairly new to the force). First, it was irresponsible for the mayor to make a statement before a full investigation (particularly when those involved are his friends); secondly, the police did what they could to deter the investigation, including reassigning a vigorous investigator within the department who complained that he could not get cooperation. (The police department said his reassignment was routine, and they made it sound like they had no choice but to reassign him, as if they were powerless against the decision, when they were the ones making the decision in the first place.)

I think a lot of us in SF would have rather seen the mayor lay off and the police department open itself up for full investigation into the matter, but that did not happen. Everyone I know is shocked at how far the indictments went; we expected that the three police officers involved would be indicted, but the fact that so many others within the department were indicted does indicate that the grand jury really believed there was a cover-up; I doubt they would go so far if there wasn't a sign of something improper going on. Reports now indicate that even the DA was more limited in what he was seeking than what the grand jury eventually decided. And, again, the accusation of a cover-up is consistent with the behavior of the police department and the mayor's office since this happened, not to mention that on the night of the assault, on-duty officers allowed the off-duty officers to come and go from the scene at will, not taking them into custody or trying to determine if they were indeed drunk.

I'm disturbed by three things in particular. (1) For now, they are keeping the chief of police in place, though he has been indicted; they are supposed to revisit that decision this week. With this going forward to trial, there will be more investigation within the police department in preparation; keeping him in power affects how that investigation is going to proceed. Also, the precedent is that any officer under indictment is supposed to be suspended. (2) The local NAACP has decided to try to make this a racial issue (although I believe only two of those indicted were black--the chief of police and an investigator--though I could be wrong about that); I guess their main accusation is with regard to the chief of police. The problem I have with this is that Amos Brown, president of the local NAACP, is a very close longtime friend of the mayor and the chief of police, so it appears he is using the organization to make a bogus claim. (3) The national press are playing up the whole 'fajitas' thing in a ridiculous way. After the assault happened, the police tried to come out and say that it was far-fetched to think that three officers attacked two civilians for a bag of food; however, in SF it did not get much play, and we haven't heard the fajita comments since then, up to this point. Basically, nobody bought it as a defense, when the more likely story was that three off-duty officers coming from a party where they were probably drinking started this up for the hell of it, not because they were hungry.

SF politics has always been nasty.
posted by troybob at 6:29 PM on March 1, 2003

Look folks, if we're going to move forward with an intellectual discussion of the real issues here, we have to get our facts straight. The fajitas were in a "doggie bag", they were not takeout. So basically, they were fighting over leftovers.
posted by JParker at 12:28 AM on March 2, 2003

Wow. Where's Dirty Harry when ya need him?
posted by tomcosgrave at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2003

So basically, they were fighting over leftovers.
That changes everything. I thought the cops were after fresh fajitas.
posted by Fabulon7 at 1:14 PM on March 2, 2003

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