It is ironic that the present SFPD scandal was sparked by three
off-duty officers beating two civilians especially considering that both
civilians survived. SFPD officers have killed civilians and behaved
horribly afterward without arousing such passions. The sad (and
under-reported) truth is this: the shady conduct making headlines today is
part of a long-standing pattern of SFPD cover-ups after questionable
police activity. This has been going on for years.
Take the 2002 killing of Gregory Hooper. While on a date with his
girlfriend, off-duty officer Steve Lee got into a fistfight with Hooper, a
black street vendor.
Eyewitnesses reported that after the fight ended, Lee shot the unarmed
Hooper four times in the chest at point-blank range. Numerous witnesses
told the San Francisco Chronicle that Lee fired not in self-defense but in
And Lee had a record of off-duty misconduct, having been cited
previously by Office of Citizen Complaints. But the SFPD and DA quickly
exonerated the officer.
Let’s be clear about the significance of this case: last year, an
off-duty SFPD officer shot an unarmed man to death and got away with it.
No wonder Fagan Junior and the gang thought they could rough up a few guys
And who can forget the cover-up following the May 1998 police shooting
of 17-year-old Sheila Detoy? To arrest 22-year-old Raymondo Cox for
missing a court date, plainclothes officer Gregory Breslin rushed toward a
car full of unarmed youths with his gun drawn. As panicked driver Michael
Negron sped around Breslin, the officer opened fire, killing Detoy and
hitting Negron in the back.
Breslin, who previously had been disciplined for covering up police
brutality, said he fired in self-defense as the youth tried to run him
down. Within hours, the lead SFPD homicide investigator was in the media
pronouncing the shooting “justifiable.”
But all of the bullets had come from beside and behind the car
indicating that the officer fired in anger as the car drove past, not
toward, him. Those facts would earn an ordinary citizen a murder or
manslaughter charge. Instead, the SFPD homicide investigator was defending
the shooting to the press.
Smelling a cover-up, Bay Area PoliceWatch tried to get the fishy
investigator removed from the case to no avail. In the end, the City
quietly paid Detoy’s family $100,000. But the SFPD and DA’s office fully
exonerated Breslin, who has since been promoted! Most observers of the
case were disgusted.
But guess who the odd-acting investigator in the Detoy case was?
Then-Lt. David Robinson (now under indictment for allegedly covering up
the Fagan Junior incident).
It doesn’t stop there. In March 2002, five officers opened fire on a
100-pound, mentally disabled black man named Richard Tims, killing him.
The barrage of bullets destroyed a bus shelter, sprayed the block, and
felled bystander Vilda Curry forever robbing the 39-year-old mother of
her ovary and the use of her leg.
Five cops should have been able to take the feeble Mr. Tims's knife
without firing a single bullet. Instead, they shot two people. All
officers were cleared in that case, too.
And after police gunned down honor student Idriss Stelley at the
Metreon in 2001, the family couldn’t even get a police report or find out
which officers were on the scene for nearly a year.
The true scandal is not about three drunk cops acting up, and
benefiting from a one-time cover-up. The scandal is that the SFPD has been
behaving just like this for years.
Many reforms are necessary. The Board of Supervisors should be
empowered to appoint some members to the Police Commission, so that timid
little body can stand up to the Chief and the mayor on tough cases. And
the DA’s office needs to establish a permanent “Blue Desk,” to prosecute
criminal police abuse.
And we all need to be less trusting of a department that consistently
chooses to cover up problems that it should be working overtime to clean
Van Jones, a Yale-educated attorney, is founder of Bay Area
PoliceWatch and long-time police watchdog.