SFPD ‘shaken’ by federal indictments against officers 

The Police Department was “shaken” Thursday by indictments unveiled against five current officers and one former officer for a host of federal charges, including constitutional-rights violations, extortion, lying in court and on police reports, and dealing drugs.

“Our department is shaken,” said a visibly upset Police Chief Greg Suhr. “I don’t know that it gets worse than this, other than an officer-involved serious injury or death, when the public trust is betrayed by sitting San Francisco police officers.”

The officers were all part of plainclothes investigation teams whose alleged misdeeds in searches conducted at single-room-occupancy hotels in the Mission district, the Tenderloin and on Sixth Street — including searching rooms without warrants — were captured on video discovered by the Public Defender’s Office in 2011.

The officers — Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill; Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville; Officer Arshad Razzak, 41, of San Francisco; Officer Richard Yick, 37, of San Francisco; and Officer Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo — have all been suspended without pay effective immediately, said Suhr.

A sixth defendant, Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert, was removed from the force for an “unrelated” disciplinary issue, Suhr said.

click to enlarge Greg Suhr
  • Mike Koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Police Chief Greg Suhr speaks to the media Thursday about two federal indictments against present and former officers. Suhr said more officers could also face “penalties.”

Other police officers involved in the searches, whose misconduct did not pass “the federal criminal threshold,” could face administrative penalties, Suhr said.

Nobody on the Police Department’s command staff is suspected of wrongdoing, Suhr added, saying there is no evidence of a systemic problem throughout the SFPD.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who noted that “hundreds” of cases and convictions were dismissed or overturned after videos of the alleged incidents were made public, said footage seemed to contradict sworn statements the officers made on police reports and in court.

However, the officers’ alleged misdeeds go beyond what was caught on film, according to the indictments.

According to one indictment, in 2009 Furminger, Robles and Vargas stole a $500 Apple gift card from a suspect they had arrested. Two days later, according to the indictment, Vargas used the card to purchase an iPhone and an iPod nano.

In a separate incident the same year, the three officers allegedly took marijuana seized during a search, the indictment said. Vargas allegedly gave the pot to an informant, with the instructions to sell the drugs and split the proceeds with all three of the officers, the indictment said.

click to enlarge Jefferson Hotel
  • Courtesy photo
  • Five San Francisco police officers and one former officer have been indicted on federal charges related to searches, which some claim were illegal, of SROs in the Tenderloin in 2011. This surveillance footage is from the Jefferson Hotel.

Following the release of the videos, several of the plainclothes teams were disbanded and Suhr revamped the rules around the department’s plainclothes teams.

The six officers were taken off the streets and reassigned to desk duty following the release of the videos in 2011, Suhr said. Some of them had their firearms taken away. Other officers involved in the controversial searches are still on active duty.

Separate cases against the officers are pending at the Office of Citizen Complaints, which investigates reports of police misconduct from the public, according to Joyce Hebert, the office’s director. She could not comment further, citing privacy protections enjoyed by law enforcement personnel.

In a civil lawsuit filed in 2012, Razzak, Elias, Yick and two other officers were accused of seizing the Henry Hotel’s master key to enter residents’ rooms without warrants. The City settled that suit for $125,000 last summer.

Vargas, who sued the department in November in an effort to be reinstated, pleaded not guilty during a brief court appearance Thursday.

The other five are scheduled to appear in court at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

If convicted of all charges, the six officers named in the federal indictments face maximum penalties ranging from 30 to more than 60 years in prison, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, whose office handed down the two indictments from federal grand juries.

Harry Stern, Vargas’s attorney — a partner of Michael Rains, whose firm is well-known for defending police officers in criminal cases — said his client’s indictment is based on “selective witnesses, asked leading questions, in a secret grand jury” proceeding.

“Credible evidence is a different matter,” said Stern, who added that he had not “had the opportunity” to see the video footage. The scandal is one that Suhr “inherited” from his predecessors, he said Thursday.

The misdeeds allegedly began in 2009, when Heather Fong was still chief, and continued through the tenures of former chief and now District Attorney George Gascón and interim chief Jeff Godown in early 2011. Suhr became chief in April 2011.

Gascón said the alleged incidents came to his attention during his tenure as chief. As district attorney, he forwarded the investigation to federal authorities to avoid a conflict of interest, he said.

“If they did commit the crimes, I think it would be a sad moment not only for us but for the entire nation,” the district attorney said.

Adachi said the indictments validate what his office had heard for years.

“The indictments today are a victory for ordinary San Franciscans,” said Adachi, who added that his office had heard complaints of officers “barging into rooms without warrants and lying about it” for “years.”

Timeline of alleged S.F. police misconduct

March 2, 2011:

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi releases surveillance video taken during two drug busts at a residential hotel in South of Market that he says proves police misconduct and perjury. More videos will be released in the weeks and months to follow.

March 2011:

The District Attorney’s Office turns over the investigation to the FBI, citing a lack of “resources to handle forensic evidence.” District Attorney George Gascon was the police chief at the time of the alleged misconduct, but he insists that has nothing to do with the decision to relinquish the investigation.

Prosecutors drop more than 100 cases in the weeks after the allegations come to light.

A drug case is dropped after defense attorneys unveil surveillance video showing undercover officers conducting an illegal search in the Richmond district.

May 2011:

Video surveillance from the Jefferson Hotel in the Tenderloin shows an illegal arrest and search of a suspected drug dealer’s room.

More video surveillance shows cops pilfering a laptop and digital camera from a suspected methamphetamine dealer’s apartment.

Recently named Police Chief Greg Suhr announces plans to outfit officers with video cameras.

Prosecutors drop 34 felony cases because of “credibility problems” with Mission Police Station officers linked to the allegations.

November 2011:

Rumors surface that police officers are being called to testify as witnesses for a federal grand jury reportedly looking into the misconduct allegations. While the police union confirms that it’s happening, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would “neither confirm nor deny” the report.

Feb. 27, 2014:

Five police officers and a former officer involved in the controversy are indicted on federal felony charges.

THE ACCUSATIONS

Officer Arshad Razzak

Conspiracy against civil rights

Deprivation of rights under color of law

Falsifying records

Maximum penalty: 31 years in prison, $750,000 fine

Officer Richard Yick

Conspiracy against civil rights

Deprivation of rights under color of law

Falsifying records

Maximum penalty: 31 years in prison, $750,000 fine

Officer Raul Eric Elias

Conspiracy against civil rights

Deprivation of rights under color of law

Maximum penalty: 11 years in prison, $500,000 fine

Sgt. Ian Furminger

Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances

Distribution of marijuana

Conspiracy against civil rights

Conspiracy to commit theft

Theft concerning federally funded program

Extortion

Maximum penalty: 85 years in prison, $3 million fine

Officer Edmond Robles

Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances

Distribution of marijuana

Conspiracy against civil rights

Conspiracy to commit theft

Theft concerning federally funded program

Maximum penalty: 65 years in prison, $2.75 million fine

Former Officer Reynaldo Vargas

Conspiracy to distribute controlled substances

Distribution of marijuana

Conspiracy against civil rights

Conspiracy to commit theft

Theft concerning federally funded program

Maximum penalty: 65 years in prison, $2.75 million fine

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Bio:
Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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