Henry K. Lee & Rachel Gordon
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defended his quick condemnation of police featured in videos he found offensive to women and minorities, as the officer who produced the skits apologized Wednesday but said it was time for “this ridiculous slandering” to stop.
At a packed news conference at City Hall, Newsom endorsed Police Chief Heather Fong’s decision to suspend without pay two dozen officers at the Bayview station who were involved in the videos. Eight have since been allowed to return to work.
“These are sworn police officers,” Newsom said. “These are people we’re supposed to look up to. These are people that represent the people of San Francisco. These are people, allegedly in uniform, working on the city dime, on city time. There’s no tolerance for this kind of insensitivity.”
In an interview after the mayor made his comments, the producer of the videos, Officer Andrew Cohen, said he alone was to blame for getting his fellow officers suspended.
“I hope I can get my job back and stop this ridiculous slandering that’s going on,” Cohen said. “Maybe something good can come from all this firestorm.
“I’m really glad that people are understanding that I meant no harm by this,” Cohen said. “I really hope that people realize that, of course, I’m apologizing for any harm that it has caused.”
But Cohen and his newly retained attorney, Michael Rains of Pleasant Hill, stressed that the videotaped skits constituted “police humor” meant to make fun of the officers themselves.
Those officers’ holidays have been ruined, and for that Cohen is sorry, said Daniel Horowitz, another attorney for Cohen.
Rains said Cohen wanted to tell his colleagues, “If you want to point the finger at anybody, just point it at me.”
Rains blasted Newsom, saying he was trying to change police culture “in the name of the mayor. Do we all want to be like Gavin Newsom? I certainly don’t want to.”
The Rev. Amos Brown, a former city supervisor and one of the city’s more prominent African American figures, interrupted Rains’ news conference to say he found Cohen to be a “person of reason” but that “we exacerbate the problem when we refuse to be humble and say, ‘I’m sorry, I showed poor judgment.’ ”
Earlier Wednesday, Cohen and his fiancee, Officer Wendy Hurley — both of whom have been suspended — arrived at the Hall of Justice for administrative hearings that will determine whether they will return to work.
During his 40-minute hearing, Cohen told Deputy Chief Melinda Pengel that “he worked here for 10 years, and he wanted to come back for another 10,” Rains said.
All 16 suspended officers who have not returned to work have had their administrative hearings and are awaiting word on whether they can go back to Bayview station, officials said.
Cohen intended to show the videos at the station’s Christmas party but never did so. They came to the department’s attention after he posted them on a Web site.
Newsom and Fong both acknowledged that they’d gotten mixed reaction to their handling of the incident.
“If this occurred in any business in the private sector, none of us, I think, would criticize the company for taking aggressive and swift action,” Newsom said. “But for some reason, some people have lowered the bar here in San Francisco.
“The bar is so low in San Francisco that people think it’s fun and games to run over an alleged homeless person, to make fun of different races and communities, to make fun of the police chief … to enact skits of people not doing their job,” Newsom said in describing some of the content in the videos.
Fong and Newsom said the suspensions hadn’t resulted in public safety being jeopardized in the high-crime Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, as officers on overtime or from other assignments have been pulled in to cover any gaps.
As for the blue-ribbon committee that Newsom called for last week to assess the Police Department, its creation has been stalled. Newsom said the person he wanted to chair the panel had yet to accept the job.