Deliberations ahead in illegal search trial
A federal jury is due to begin deliberating Wednesday in the trial of two San Francisco police officers accused of conspiring to enter and search residential hotel rooms without a warrant.
Officers Arshad Razzak, 42, and Richard Yick, 38, have been on trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg since Jan. 12. Closing arguments began Tuesday and the case will go to the jury after completion of the final prosecution rebuttal argument Wednesday morning.
The two officers, who were suspended without pay after being indicted last February, are both accused of conspiring to violate civil rights through illegal entries and searches of single-room occupancy residential hotel rooms between Dec. 23, 2010, and March 1, 2011.
They are also charged with a specific deprivation of civil rights during a search of a room at the Henry Hotel at Sixth and Mission streets on Dec. 23, 2010, in a drug investigation. Razzak is additionally accused of falsifying a police report and an informant’s pay slip related to the incident.
But specific charges that the officers illegally entered and searched another Henry Hotel room on Jan. 5, 2011, were dropped by prosecutors a few days before the trial began. The civil rights investigation began after San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in March 2011 released hotel surveillance videotapes that appeared to show officers entering the rooms without a warrant or consent of the occupants.
In both incidents, Razzak, Yick and other officers were working as plainclothes detectives and were following up on tips that people in the rooms possessed drugs. Police arrested one man in the first incident and a man and woman in the second incident on suspicion of heroin possession, but the cases were dismissed after the surveillance videos came to light.
The trial of Razzak and Yick is the second federal trial within two months of San Francisco officers accused of misconduct. On Dec. 5, Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, and Officer Edmond Robles, 47, of Danville, were convicted in a different judge’s court of charges including conspiracy to violate civil rights, wire fraud and theft from a federally funded program.
Prosecutors alleged they stole money and Apple gift cards that they seized during searches and divided the proceeds among themselves. Furminger and Robles are scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on Feb. 23.
A sentencing date has not yet been set for former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert, who pleaded guilty to four charges and testified against Furminger and Robles. In today’s closing arguments in Razzak’s and Yick’s case, defense attorneys argued that prosecutors hadn’t proved the existence of a conspiracy between the two officers.
Yick’s attorney, Peter Furst, told the jury:
“There has been no evidence – none – that they were in agreement.”
Yick entered the Henry Hotel room on Dec. 23, 2010, after another officer opened the door with a master key. “He went in because his fellow officers went in. Right or wrong, you have to follow” to protect fellow officers, Furst said.
Both Furst and Michael Rains, Razzak’s defense attorney, said the two men didn’t know each other well or work together often and that it didn’t make sense that they would conspire with one another.
“There’s absolutely no testimony that they talked together, that there was a plan.”
But prosecutor Rodney Villazor told the jury during his closing:
“They intended to go into a room without a warrant. They intended to give false evidence. They knew that what they were doing was unlawful. … It violates the Constitution.”
The first officer to enter the Henry Hotel room on Dec. 23, 2010, was Arthur Madrid, who opened the door with a master key the officers obtained from the hotel desk clerk. He testified in his colleagues’ trial after being given immunity from prosecution.
Another officer indicted in the case, Raul Elias, 45, of San Mateo, has had his trial put on hold while he is evaluated for a pretrial diversion program, according to court records. Both sets of officers – Razzak, Yick and Elias in one case and Furminger, Robles and Vargas in the other — were charged in two separate indictments issued by a federal grand jury on Feb. 25 of last year.
When the indictments were announced two days later, Police Chief Greg Suhr said:
“Our department has been shaken.”