Public Nuisance

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The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003
The Fajitas that Ate SFPD

Earl Sanders and Alex Fagan Sr, the top two officers indicted in the SFPD coverup case, have been dropped from the indictment, after the DA determined there was insufficient evidence to proceed against them. The cases against the other 5 officers accused of conspiracy and obstruction and the 3 accused of beating two men who refused to hand over a take out meal of steak fajitas will go forward.

While those cops willing to speak publicly have supported the indictees, there is clearly a minority who support the indictments, but feel intimidated and will only speak anonymously. That includes some gay officers - one other victim of alleged excess force by indicted officer Alex Fagan Jr is Kevin Jordan, a gay man who is now suing the city and alleges he was victim of a hate crime. There are reports that gay officers have avoided working with Fagan, as well as a controversy last year over the demotion of the SFPD's highest ranking out gay, former Deputy Chief Melinda Pengel. It also includes many who feel that the current command team, largely hand-picked by Willie Brown, is a corrupt insiders club. There have been many incidents of questionable police conduct in recent years, several resulting in deaths, while the SFPD has consistently cleared its own people of all misconduct.

Willie Brown himself is an interesting case. He has been a political legend in this area for a long time. Brown grew up in Texas in a poor family - his parents were sharecroppers, IIRC. His local career dates back to the 1960s, when he litigated and won key cases to open up SF neighborhoods that had previously been segragated. He went into the California Assembly and became Speaker for many years. He was an extremely powerful Speaker, with a legendary ability to control which bills died and which were passed. For a long time, he was probably the most powerful liberal politician in the state. After a term limits initiative forced him out, he became mayor.

Brown is admired for his intelligence, ability, and flamboyance, but has never been regarded as particularly clean. Through his career in office he has maintained a private law practice, routinely taking clients who had important interests with various public bodies he could influence or control. The law office has made him a rich man, and he is famous for his expensive suits and, since his divorce, the string of young beautiful women who accompany him to social and political events. The fact that he has never been indicted, although he was rumored to be the main target of an FBI operation that did result in some state lawmakers being jailed, has always been attributed more to cleverness than honesty. Brown's reputation for dubious deals has done little damage to his popularity. He is personally popular and has been seen politically as somewhat like the Teamsters - effective enough for his constituents that they are willing to wink at the rumored corruption.

He is being term limited out again, but he wants to designate his own successor. He is backing Supervisor Gavin Newsom to be the next Mayor, and anybody other than Terence Hallinan as the next DA - perhaps at least partly because he is nervous at the thought of a maverick DA being able to investigate his administration after he retires. Hallinan is also a local progressive legend - his father Vincent worked (sometimes along with mine) to defend alleged, and sometimes real, Communists in the 1950s.

I would have voted for both Brown and Hallinan four years ago, but wouldn't back either today. Brown's whiff of corruption is turning into a festering stench, and both Hallinan and Brown have been ineffective at guarding public safety and fighting crime.

I mentioned in my earlier posting on this topic that SFPD is statistically among the worst big city police departments in solving major crimes. Perhaps one reason for this can be found in this article alleging an earlier incident of illegally withholding evidence by Chief Earl Sanders:

The tension doesn't let up: later that night, at an emergency Police Commission hearing, a couple of undercover narc cops threaten to eject community activist Van Jones, who is loudly declaring District Attorney Terence Hallinan "a hero."

Now I'm no expert in police procedure, but this was an emergency meeting held just after a heavily publicized indictment, covered by every local news organization with 10 or more TV cameras recording the proceedings. Is that really the best place for an undercover cop to make a statement of his support for the police brass?