For the second time in a week — and the fifth time this year — San Francisco’s public defender released video that he claims shows police officers violating a suspect’s constitutional rights and improperly handling evidence.
“We have a pattern of illegal searches and seizures,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Tuesday. “Why are the officers removing personal property? … You tell me. That's the answer we're waiting for.”
The latest recording shows officers entering and later leaving the Julian Hotel on Feb. 25, 2011 with items that Adachi claims were never booked into evidence.
In their reports, the officers wrote that a suspect, Jesus Reyes, 64, gave them permission to enter and search his hotel room for drugs after he admitted he used “a little meth.” The officers said they identified Reyes as a neighborhood methamphetamine dealer after they received a tip from an informant.
According to the report, officers arrested Reyes for possession with intent to sell narcotics after they found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia in his room.
But Reyes said the officers took his keys and entered his room, giving no answer when he asked if they had a search warrant. He said that there was no meth in the apartment and that the only items officers removed were a laptop and a digital camera.
Those items were not documented in the police report, and the video shows one officer, Ricardo Guerrero, leaving with the hotel with a black duffel bag allegedly containing the laptop, which Reyes said belonged to his nephew.
“Just because you're a police officer, that doesn't give you the right to go into someone's room and loot personal property,” Adachi said. “That is theft. That is a crime.”
Prosecutors dropped their case against Reyes on May 4, after Guerrero failed to appear in court, despite a subpoena.
Guerrero, a 17-year veteran of the force who is paid $223,000, was also involved in another arrest that Adachi targeted last week. The public defender released a video Wednesday that he says shows plainclothes officers, including Guerrero, illegally taking items that were never booked into evidence from a defendant's room at the Jefferson Hotel Dec. 30, 2010.
Adachi said Tuesday that he wants the officers involved in the Feb. 25 incident removed from active duty and prevented from testifying as witnesses without cross-examination. Adachi called the latest tape evidence of “systematic misconduct” and said the district attorney’s office will have to review even more cases as a result.
A spokesman for San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said it was premature to comment on the number of cases that may be compromised.
According to a statement from police Chief Greg Suhr, all five officers in the Feb. 25 case have been taken out of the plainclothes unit. Some have been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation.
Punishment for any officers found guilty of misconduct, Suhr said, “will be swift and severe up to and including termination depending on the findings.”