Video tapes contradict embroiled San Francisco police unit reports 

Two more criminal cases have been dropped and two other officers named in a widening investigation involving a plainclothes Police Department unit accused of conducting illegal drug raids and falsifying police reports.

Members of the unit at Southern Station have been accused by defense attorneys of entering residential hotel rooms without warrants or consent and then lying about their actions on police reports. Public Defender Jeff Adachi has offered video surveillance tapes appearing to contradict the officers’ accounts.

On Monday, private attorney Scott Sugarman said new video from the Henry Hotel at 106 Sixth St. offered proof his client was innocent of a Dec. 2 arrest for cocaine possession for sale. Prosecutors dismissed the case after his client spent the next three weeks in jail, he said.

According to Sugarman, one of the officers in the bust, Gregory Buhagiar, claimed to have seen the client — a 29-year-old man whose name was not released — enter the hotel wearing a white and gold jacket, in which a half-ounce of cocaine was later found. His client maintained he had been wearing a black jacket, which the video clearly showed.

The man was arrested and his denial was never noted in the report.

“The officers made a false accusation, they jailed an innocent man,” Sugarman said. Adachi said Sugarman’s client had been “framed.”

The second case, a Dec. 12 street arrest by members of the same unit for drug possession for sale, was dismissed by prosecutors Monday morning. Three other cases, including two other raids at the Henry Hotel and another at a hotel in the Mission district, have previously been dismissed.

Police Chief Jeff Godown confirmed Monday that the entire plainclothes unit at Southern Station — seven officers and supervising Sgt. Samuel Christ — has been placed on desk duty during the department’s Internal Affairs investigation.

“We’ll investigate it, and we’ll determine what happened, and we’ll get the officers’ side of the story,” Godown said. Separate investigations are being conducted by the FBI and the District Attorney’s Office.

In the meantime, according to Godown, plainclothes investigators from other parts of The City are assisting with investigations in the Southern district, which includes the South of Market, southern Embarcadero, China Basin and Treasure Island areas.

“They’re a very proactive unit, they make a lot of arrests,” Godown said. “And that’s what we’re looking at; we’re looking at all the arrests.”

Defense attorneys are also looking at those arrests.

Adachi said Monday that his office will be reviewing between 2,000 and 3,000 drug cases.

“Certainly there needs to be consequences for this kind of misconduct,” Adachi said.

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Ari Burack

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