Kate Moser, 3/9/11
Amid a widening investigation into drug searches and seizures by a team of undercover San Francisco police officers, District Attorney George Gascón dropped another 42 cases today.
That brings the total to 57 cases — mostly narcotics, some robbery abatement cases — the office has been forced to drop since last week.
Gascón said his trial integrity unit is reviewing all open cases. He declined to estimate how many arrests the officers under investigation have been responsible for in the past few years.
And he bristled at Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s estimate that 2,000 to 3,000 cases need to be reviewed.
“We are not going to allow emotional and political statements to drive this investigation,” he said, adding later that he hoped to conduct the investigation “professionally” and not turn it into a “media circus.”
In a letter, Adachi requested that Gascón hand over a list of all arrests and incidents — going back seven years — involving the eight officers, as well as a host of other evidence, including police reports in which the cops are listed. He also asked Gascón to provide the date when the DA’s office became aware of the alleged misconduct.
The DA’s office started dropping cases last week, after Adachi publicized video surveillance from a Tenderloin hotel that appeared to show the police illegally searching and seizing drugs at residences there. A judge dismissed one case after seeing the video; prosecutors dropped the other.
In front of Judge Anne Bouliane this afternoon, Sharon Woo, Gascón’s chief assistant for operations, moved to drop the 42 cases, citing the office’s inability to meet its burden of proof.
Outside the courtroom, Adachi commended the DA’s office for dropping the cases, and said he expected there will be more cases dismissed. He also said his office’s investigation has expanded to include cases where there were allegations of illegal entry by the police, and cases where the cops used master keys to enter rooms at single-room occupancy hotels — as they did in the videotaped drug arrests.
At a news conference earlier in the day, Gascón, who was police chief when the incidents took place, fended off questions about his own accountability for the police officers’ actions.
“[It was I] who took the initiative to create a criminal section within internal affairs to investigate allegations of criminality by police officers,” he said.
Gascón also said today that the office would provide senior staff to give police officers training on legal searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment. And he said he would begin making someone from the DA’s office available around the clock to advise cops on search warrants.
Asked about the progress of the criminal investigation, Gascón said the office is “nowhere close to the point where we’re going to be interviewing those officers.”
Meanwhile the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association has retained Michael Rains, of Pleasant Hill’s Rains Lucia Stern. Rains said he’s begun reviewing videotape and police reports and is currently making decisions on representation for the officers.
The fact that the DA’s office has dropped 57 cases doesn’t mean the officers committed any misconduct, Rains said, and he countered the public defender’s assertion that the videotape evidence provides a window into a larger culture of misconduct: “I think that’s a misstatement really blowing this case way, way out of proportion.”