SF Police Chief Suhr accused in lawsuit of 'pattern of skirting' the law 

click to enlarge San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, right, is sworn in to office in April 2011 by Mayor Ed Lee. Shortly after becoming The City's top cop, Suhr fired an attorney who worked for the department. That attorney is now claiming the firing was retaliatory for her handling of a case against Suhr in which he improperly handled a friend's domestic violence incident. - MIKE KOOZMIN/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, right, is sworn in to office in April 2011 by Mayor Ed Lee. Shortly after becoming The City's top cop, Suhr fired an attorney who worked for the department. That attorney is now claiming the firing was retaliatory for her handling of a case against Suhr in which he improperly handled a friend's domestic violence incident.
Police Chief Greg Suhr fired a police lawyer because she investigated alleged misdeeds around a domestic violence case and uncovered a “pattern of skirting” the law, according to documents released in a civil case opened Monday against The City and Suhr.

Documents from the civil lawsuit, filed by Kelly O’Haire, a former police internal affairs attorney, also contend that Mayor Ed Lee and his chief of staff Steve Kawa knew about the retaliatory firing, but failed to report the matter as is required in whistleblower cases.

O’Haire was fired in 2011 soon after Suhr was appointed chief by Lee. Suhr and The City contend that she was fired because the department had a major shortfall and had to get rid of staff. Lee says that he doesn’t recall talking to Suhr about O’Haire.

O’Haire’s case stems from her investigation into a domestic violence case responded to by Suhr in 2009 — in which the victim, a female friend of Suhr’s, sustained a broken collar bone.

The suit alleges that Suhr mishandled the response by failing to act according to department rules, failing to arrest the perpetrator and failing to file a police report. Suhr allegedly responded to the incident in his police car, failed to check to see if a restraining order had been filed and told the victim to keep his name out of the police report when she finally filed one.

Suhr drove the victim home and later she said he saved her life, according to the documents. The suspect was eventually charged with attempted murder.

Subsequently, under Chief Heather Fong, O’Haire investigated the incident, and uncovered additional alleged wrongdoing in Suhr’s past, and a “pattern of skirting the law with violations that included failing to make a report and lying to the FBI to get top secret security clearance.”

According to filings in the suit, during prosecution of the discipline case before the police commission she was “threatened numerous times by Suhr’s attorneys and POA representatives, who allegedly said Suhr would fire her if he ever became chief.”

Two and a half weeks after Suhr became chief he terminated O’Haire, according to court documents.

In an August 2014 deposition, former police chief and current District Attorney George Gascon said he thought Suhr did retaliate against O’Haire.

When asked “Have you formed the opinion that Greg Suhr retaliated against Ms. O’Haire when he became chief by terminating her,” Gascon replied: “It certainly appears that way.”

“I think there were several people that were very quickly demoted or transferred or terminated from employment. Many of those people were associated either with my administration or the administration before mine,” said Gascon when asked if he knew about O’Haire’s May 16, 2011 firing.

Gascon said there were demotions, transfers and the like after Suhr took over. Former assistant chief Rom Shawyer was demoted to captain, for example, and, along with O’Haire, Jerry Tidwell was fired.

“Kelly in multiple occasions indicated that she was fearful that she would be retaliated against if Greg Suhr became the chief of police,” said Gascon. “And then he did, and she was terminated.”

O’Haire ran into Gascon after being fired, she said in a declaration March 5, 2015. “I was crying, and told District Attorney Gascon that Chief Suhr had fired me,” she said. Gascon hugged me and told me to call him in a few days to see what he could do.” Then she added: “He promised me he would call Mayor Ed Lee and tell him how wrong the termination was and that it would look bad for the Mayor and the City.”

Gascon then contacted Lee and Kawa on O’Haire’s behalf. “I felt it important for the mayor to be aware of this personnel action as well as others, and I made that known to him,” he said about a meeting in the mayor’s officer three days after O’Haire’s firing in late May, 2011.

“Basically they heard me and they felt that they were not going to do anything about it,” he said.

By May 25, 2011 Gascon got back to O’Haire with a reply, saying that he had spoken to the mayor. “The mayor said he had spoken to Chief Suhr, who told him that ‘it was all good,’” O’Haire recalled Gascon telling her. He then said Lee said he was leaving the matter in Suhr’s hands.

But Suhr said in a deposition in August 2014 that he had to let people go, including O’Haire, because of budget shortfalls at the time, which as a subject he spoke to the mayor about in general.

“I discussed what I was doing as far as downsizing from the top to get to the savings before I went to the membership,” said Suhr.

Lee says in court documents that he does not recall talking specifically about O’Haire, but her lawyers have asked the court to order Lee to a deposition.

The trial is set to continue Wednesday morning in Judge Lynn O’Malley Taylor’s court.

About The Author

Jonah Owen Lamb

Jonah Owen Lamb

Bio:
Born and raised on a houseboat in Sausalito, Lamb has written for newspapers in New York City, Utah and the San Joaquin Valley. He was most recently an editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune for nearly three years. He has written for The S.F. Examiner since 2013 and covers criminal justice and planning.
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