Lee Heidhues 2.3.2022
The battle for holding San Francisco’s notoriously abusive Police Department is reaching critical mass. The Chief of Police has summarily withdrawn the Department from the agreement that has given the District Attorney responsibility for investigating police use-of-forces cases.
The incumbent District Attorney Chesa Boudin is adhering to the letter the terms of the agreement and the cops don’t like it.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association will leave no rhetorical stone unturned and will spend whatever monies it takes to try and unseat Boudin in the June 7 recall.
This unilateral action by the Chief of Police is just one skirmish in the political warfare enveloping San Francisco between the lock ’em up law and order crowd and those who are fighting for progressive justice embodied by Chesa Boudin.
Excerpted from The San Francisco Chronicle 2.3.3022
San Francisco’s two most powerful law enforcement officials on Thursday deepened a rift that threatens police reform in the city, trading accusations over Police Chief Bill Scott’s move to sever an agreement that makes the District Attorney’s Office the lead investigative agency in police use-of-force cases.
District Attorney Chesa Boudin said Thursday that it was “no coincidence” that Scott made the decision just days before the beginning of a trial in which San Francisco police Officer Terrance Stangel is accused of needlessly beating a man with a baton — the first of a handful of police use-of-force cases Boudin plans to bring in front of juries.
“Chief Scott’s sudden announcement should alarm the public and everyone who has called for police reform in San Francisco and across the country,” said city Public Defender Mano Raju. “We can no longer permit the police to police themselves.”
San Francisco police-reform advocates began pushing for changes years ago, efforts that took on greater urgency after officers’ killing of Mario Woods in the Bayview neighborhood in 2015. A core contention of reformers is that police officers cannot be entrusted to lead investigations into their own colleagues.
Boudin, who ran for district attorney on a promise of police accountability, is pursuing five criminal cases against six police officers, including Stangel.
San Francisco Police Commissioner John Hamasaki said he was outraged by Scott’s decision, arguing that he should have consulted the commission before pulling out of the agreement and that “we would figure out how to fix it.” Instead, Hamasaki said, Scott went public, conveying the message that the case was “brought wrongfully, and that the jurors should view the … prosecution with suspicion.”
Scott maintained that he had the power to pull out of the agreement unilaterally if necessary.
Thomas “Tip” Mazzucco, a former police commissioner and former prosecutor who helped craft the first agreement between police and Boudin’s predecessor, George Gascón, said it was important for the public to have trust in police use-of-force investigations, and said he hoped the agreement could be preserved
“Unfortunately, the key here is that there’s a lack of integrity, and integrity has been lost,” he said. “As prosecutors, we’re held to a much higher standard.”
By design, making the D.A.’s Office the lead investigator makes police officers uncomfortable, said John Alden, the former head of the Independent Investigations Bureau that Gascón began building in 2016 to investigate police shootings, in-custody deaths and serious uses of force. The nature of an investigation, he said, is to withhold information from the person being scrutinized — an unsettling change for a public agency long accustomed to investigating itself.
Alden, who helped negotiate an earlier version of the agreement before he left the D.A.’s Office in 2019 to run the Community Police Review Agency in Oakland, said, “It’s inevitable that this conflict was going to happen — there’s just no two ways about it.”
The chief’s decision, though, was applauded Thursday by the head of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Tony Montoya said the move may help to buoy sagging morale among officers, who he said have felt unsupported by the department’s top brass.
“Put it this way: No one’s called me and said it was a bad idea to get out,” Montoya said, adding that an upcoming special meeting where union members planned “to discuss leadership within the SFPD” had been postponed.