Federal defense attorneys allege SFPD, DEA conducted biased drug trafficking stings 

Federal defense attorneys allege that drug trafficking stings conducted in a joint operation between federal and local law enforcement officials in the Tenderloin and South of Market targeted individuals based on their race.

All 37 people who were arrested between 2013 and 2014 for dealing small amounts of drugs during the joint task force sweeps, known as Operation Safe Schools, were black, according to the Federal Public Defender’s Office of the Northern District of California. Attorneys representing those caught in the sweeps have filed a motion asking the court to hear all the cases together.

Abraham Simmons, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, said Thursday that while his office has no comment on the allegations of bias, his office is reviewing the motion filed to relate the cases and, if necessary, will respond in court.

The sweeps, part of a program called Operation Safe Schools, was a joint effort by the San Francisco Field Division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, San Francisco Police Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“In total, thirty-seven people have been targeted by the ... Operation Safe Schools taskforce. Every single one is Black,” according to the motion filed Tuesday.

U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag defended the operation, stressing the significance of protecting school zones to ensure that children who live and go to school in these neighborhoods are not exposed to crime and drug dealing.

“We intend to continue with this initiative and others like it until the children in our community are no longer exposed to these dangerous situations,” Haag said.

But federal defense attorneys are concerned that defendants in the cases were targeted due to their race. The attorneys also note in the motion concerns raised by recently revealed evidence of racial bias by San Francisco officers against black, Hispanic, Asian and gay people.

City officials announced last month that several police officers were under investigation in connection with the discovery of a number of racist and homophobic text messages. The messages were discovered by the FBI during a 2009 investigation into three San Francisco officers accused of stealing money and property from suspects.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr is recommending terminations and suspensions for officers who were involved in the exchange of the homophobic and racist text messages.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the defendants arrested in Operation Safe Schools are each charged with the distribution of prohibited drugs on or within 1,000 feet of a school or playground and are charged with distributing various controlled substances, such as crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and oxycodone.

They face a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail with at least six years of supervised release if found guilty.

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