San Francisco's criminal-case dismissals might slow down

| March 16, 2011

The nearly 70 criminal cases dismissed by prosecutors in connection with the ongoing investigation into an undercover police unit constitute the majority of those that will be dropped, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office said.

Eight San Francisco officers are suspected of conducting illegal searches and falsifying police reports. The dismissed court cases involve arrests by the officers, who are all still under investigation.

“The bulk of the cases have been dismissed,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Seth Steward said. “There may be a small number of additional cases.”

Most of the 68 open cases dismissed as of Friday involved drug-related arrests, though others were arrests during undercover robbery decoy operations.

“If there’s a case that we know we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt, we want to bring that to the court’s attention as soon as possible,” Steward said.

By contrast, some 700 cases were dismissed last year following allegations that Police Department criminalist Debbie Madden took small amounts of cocaine from evidence samples.

On Friday, District Attorney George Gascón — who was the chief of police when the alleged violations by the officers occurred — said he had decided to turn over the latest investigation into possible police misconduct to the FBI. He cited a lack of resources in his office, but denied there was any conflict of interest.

The allegations, brought to light by Public Defender Jeff Adachi this month, involve video surveillance footage showing a handful of arrests at residential hotels in recent months in which officers appeared to enter residences without warrants or consent, contradicting their arrest reports filed afterward.

Adachi is seeking information on all the prosecutions related to arrests by the officers, including already-closed cases going back seven years. He said his office ended up reviewing 1,170 prior convictions in connection with the Madden investigation, resulting in dismissals or reductions of sentences in 127 cases.

“I’m expecting in this situation, there will be at least as many cases that we’ll have to review,” Adachi said. “And in those cases, a certain percentage of them will have to go back to court.”

Steward said it would be “premature” to speculate on closed cases involving the unit at this point in the investigation.

The eight members of the Southern Police Station plainclothes unit have been placed on desk duty during an internal affairs investigation. The officers have not been charged in connection with the allegations.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

Tossed out

The fallout from the undercover-police scandal in the Police Department has resulted in criminals walking free, though not as many as another scandal involving a criminalist stealing drugs from the crime lab.

68 cases dismissed this year in connection with undercover-unit scandal

700 cases dismissed in 2010 in connection with crime-lab scandal

1,170 prior convictions reviewed by the Public Defender’s Office in connection with crime-lab scandal

127 prior convictions connected to crime-lab scandal that were subsequently reduced or dismissed

Sources: District Attorney’s Office, Public Defender’s Office

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