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San Francisco Chief & Other Male Top Command Indicted in Felony Cover-up; Assaulting Officer Had History of Excessive Force

Last Thursday, San Francisco police chief, Earl Sanders, and nine other officers, were indicted after a grand jury investigation into a cover-up of a November 20, 2002 brawl involving three off-duty officers, one of who is the son of the assistant chief. The grand jury indictments accuse Sanders and his top commanders of conspiring to obstruct the investigation into the incident. Besides Sanders, those indicted were Assistant Chief Alex Fagan, Deputy Chief Greg Suhr, Deputy Chief David Robinson, who runs the bureau of investigations, Captain Greg Corrales, Lieutenant Ed Cota, who worked out of Northern Station near where the fight occurred, and Sergeant John Syme. The seven men, including the chief, were all released on their own recognizance, instead of the $15,000 bail called for under the felony charge. According to attorneys specializing in police misconduct, arrests of the entire top command of a police department is unprecedented, and many think the prosecution may be planning to expose other corrupt acts within the department. It is still unclear as to who will run the department during this period. The San Francisco Police Commission is holding a special meeting today to try to make that determination among fears that keeping the top command in charge could result in repercussions for the officers whose testimony led to the indictments.

The three officers involved in the November 2002 street brawl, Alex Fagan Jr., Matthew Tonsing, and David Lee, have been indicted on felony assault charges and released on $90,000 bail each. An investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle has revealed that Officer Fagan, son of the department’s Assistant Chief, had a history of using excessive force. In the 13-months prior to the November 20 incident, Fagan used excessive force in at least 16 encounters with suspects, and sent six of those suspects to the hospital. San Francisco police regulations require that officers receive counseling if they accumulate three use-of-force incidents in a three-month period. In accordance with this regulation, Fagan was counseled three times about the need to use force only when appropriate. Many experts in police excessive force, however, say that the department should have taken more serious steps to protect citizens from Fagan. According to Penny Harrington, founding director of the National Center for Women & Policing and former Portland police chief, “an officer who accumulated the kind of record that Fagan did should have been pulled out of uniform long before his sixteenth excessive force incident, regardless of who he was related to. He was a liability to San Francisco and now they’re paying for it.”

Sources:

KCBS, 02/28/03; San Francisco Chronicle, 03/02/03 & 03/03/03