Pubdate: Mon, 20 Jun 2011
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Justin Scheck


Hundreds Of Criminal Cases Dismissed In San
Francisco Bay Area As Allegations Of Law-Enforcement Corruption Persist

SAN FRANCISCO-Bay Area prosecutors have been forced to dismiss more
than 800 criminal cases in the past year because of allegations of
police corruption that include selling drug evidence, conducting
unlawful searches and conspiring to get men drunk and then arrest them
on drunk-driving charges.

The series of police scandals has taxed the budgets of the
district-attorney and public-defender offices, and prompted two
federal investigations.

In some cases, defense lawyers found that security-camera videos in
residential hotels-showing police making drug arrests-apparently
contradicted the officers' sworn statements.

In one case, a suspect was seen in a video of his arrest wearing a
different jacket from the one the officers entered into evidence.

Last year, the San Francisco district attorney dismissed about 700
criminal cases after a drug crime-lab worker was accused of stealing
evidence. This year, since March, the district attorney has dismissed
about 125 cases, mainly felony drug prosecutions.

East of San Francisco in Contra Costa County, the state-run County
Narcotics Enforcement Team, or CNET, has been caught up in a widening
scandal resulting in the dismissal of 15 cases, according to the
county district attorney. The district attorney said earlier this
month he was turning the investigation of the cases over to the
Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The CNET chief, two police officers and a private investigator are
charged with a range of gun, drug and other crimes, including selling
methamphetamine, steroids and marijuana stolen from evidence lockers.

The four also are charged with masterminding a plot to get men drunk
and then arrest them for driving while intoxicated.

In November of last year, prosecutors charge, the private investigator
"arranged to have a female decoy" invite men to a bar. The men were
going through divorce proceedings in which he represented their wives.

After the man and the decoy drank for a while, one of the police
officers would call another and ask him to stop the man's car on
suspicion of drunk driving, the indictment says.

Lawyers for the CNET chief and the investigator say their clients
admit some wrongdoing and are cooperating with investigators.

Peter Keane, a professor at Golden Gate University School of Law in
San Francisco and a former defense lawyer, said the scandals raise
questions about whether there is a "systemic problem" in the oversight
of state and local narcotics investigators in California. Mr. Keane
blames the problem partly on the intrusive nature of drug

"So much of making drug arrests involves going into somebody's house,"
he said.

Lt. Troy Dangerfield, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police
Department, said no officers have been charged with misconduct, though
the investigation is ongoing. He said several officers have been
reassigned from undercover duty, and that some dismissed cases could
be refiled if officers were cleared of wrongdoing.

George Gascon, appointed district attorney in San Francisco this year
after serving as San Francisco police chief since 2009, said the
scandals have resulted in his office "having to spend a lot of
resources to make decisions on mistakes and bad practices in the past."

Defense lawyers have credited Mr. Gascon with trying to investigate,
rather than conceal, the problems. At his request, the FBI is
examining arrests made at low-income hotels. The investigation is
looking into "allegations that SFPD officers were conducting
unauthorized searches," an FBI spokeswoman said.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has held news conferences to
show videos that raise questions about police searches. Mr. Adachi
said his office is reviewing about 7,000 cases for possible police

Jesus Reyes, 65 years old, a resident of the Julian House hotel in San
Francisco, was arrested Feb. 25 on drug charges. ,In an interview and
in court filings Mr. Reyes said that police searched him and a van he
was in without his consent.

They took his keys, entered his apartment and searched it, he

"I asked them if they had a search warrant, and they just ignored me,"
Mr. Reyes said.

During the apartment search, police confiscated a laptop computer and
camera, and found a small amount of methamphetamine. They arrested Mr.
Reyes and jailed him for three days, Mr. Reyes said.

The laptop and camera weren't recorded in the police report as
confiscated evidence.

In May, a judge dismissed the case after Mr. Reyes's lawyer obtained a
video showing officers entering the room and leaving with bags
apparently containing the belongings that were later not booked as

The police declined to comment on the case. 
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