San Francisco District Attorney’s Office turns police investigation over to feds 

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and his office will not investigate alleged misconduct by eight police officer that was brought to light by surveillance footage.

The alleged warrantless drug searches by the San Francisco police officers have resulted in the dismissal of more than 50 cases since last week.

Gascon on Friday said the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI has agreed to fully take over the probe due to new information his office discovered Friday morning, although he declined to describe the information in any more detail.

In a press conference Friday, he said the decision has nothing to do with staffing levels in the District Attorney’s Office, but rather with a lack of “resources to handle forensic evidence.” Therefore, Gascon said, federal investigators will have final say over whether the officers acted illegally or committed perjury in arrest reports.

“This investigation is really in its infancy,” Gascon said.
Gascon, the former chief of police during the alleged officer misconduct, said Friday’s decision also was not based on potential conflict of interest from his old job.

The Public Defender’s Office, which released the surveillance footage from the Henry Hotel on Sixth Street, is pleased with the decision after raising questions over whether Gascon could be impartial in the matter.

“We’ve been saying since the beginning that an independent investigation is the way to go, so we welcome the FBI’s involvement,” said Tamara Barak Aparton, a spokeswoman in the Public Defender’s Office.

Police Chief Jeff Godown said SFPD is conducting its own internal investigation and Friday’s press conference was the first he’d heard of the district attorney dropping the matter. He said the Police Department is continuing to look at footage to discover the nature of arrests at the hotel.

“We want to be transparent and we want to be thorough,” Godown said. “But we don’t want this to take five or six months.”

Gascon said the District Attorney’s Office will assist in the investigation by the Justice Department, headed by U.S. Attorney Melinda Hagg, who already has a reputation as being tough on law enforcement officers who break the law themselves. In 2002 she prosecuted two guards at Pelican Bay State Prison for setting up assaults on inmates, including one killing. She won the trial despite the refusal of other prison guards to cooperate in the investigation.

Like the San Francisco Police Department, the District Attorney’s Office is still looking at individual pending cases involving the seven officers and one supervisor in the plainclothes unit of the department’s Southern Station, which covers the South of Market, southern Embarcadero, China Basin and Treasure Island areas.

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Dan Schreiber

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