It was just another day at the Hall of Justice. San Francisco police officers with 10 – 12 years of experience testified that they were investigating illegal narcotics. Residents of the Henry Hotel consented to allow the officers to enter their apartments. Despite cries raised by the defense attorneys that the officers didn’t have a warrant and that their clients never consented to the search, ordinarily a judge would deny the defendants’ motion to suppress evidence.
But this day was different. Why?… The officers were caught on tape.
In two felony drug busts, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, without telling the judge or prosecutor, obtained surveillance videos from the hallway of the Henry Hotel where drug busts went down. The video footage contradicted or cast grave doubt on the written reports and sworn testimony by the officers that they obtained people’s consent to search the apartments. In one case, the video showed the officers simply barging in. In the other, an officer puts his hand on the camera lens in order to cover it up, and only takes his hand off once a resident is letting the officers into the apartment.
Because of this smoking gun evidence, both cases were dismissed. The six officers involved in the drug raids were placed on administrative leave.
If you think the latest embarrassments to the San Francisco Police Department are just isolated examples of police misconduct, you’d be mistaken. Far too often, police officers think that they are above the law and violate constitutional rights, falsify police reports, and lie on the witness stand with abandon.
San Francisco DA George Gascon deserves credit for saying that “police and prosecutors need to play by the rules. If we do not play by the rules, the system crumbles.” For the sake of that system, I hope that his words are matched by his deeds. Police officers who break the law and scoff at constitutional protections should be punished harshly
To see the videos, go to http://sfappeal.com/news/2011/03/public-defender-releases-videos-he-claims-show-police-misconduct.php