Suhr: Convicted officers betrayed public trust

One San Francisco police officer was convicted and a second officer was acquitted in federal court Thursday of conspiring to carry out illegal searches of residential hotel rooms in drug investigations.

Officer Arshad Razzak, 42,was found guilty of four counts by a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco. He will be sentenced by Seeborg on April 28. Officer Richard Yick, 38, was acquitted of the three charges leveled against him.

The charges related to the search of a room in the residential Henry Hotel at Sixth and Mission streets in San Francisco by Razzak, Yick and two other officers on Dec. 23, 2010. The officers, who worked out of the Police Department’s Southern Station as undercover detectives, were acting on a tip that a visitor in the room possessed drugs.

Razzak was convicted of conspiring to violate civil rights by entering and searching rooms without a warrant or consent of their occupants and then falsifying police reports between that date and March 1, 2011.

He was also found guilty of depriving the hotel resident in the Dec. 23, 2010, search of her civil rights, falsifying the pay slip of a confidential informant and falsifying a police report that said officers knocked on the woman’s door and received permission to enter.

Yick was acquitted of the first three charges and was not accused of the fourth. Both officers are San Francisco residents. The conviction was the second within two months in a federal prosecution of San Francisco officers accused of misconduct.

Both cases stemmed from a civil rights probe initiated by the FBI after San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in March 2011 released hotel surveillance videotapes that appeared to show officers entering rooms without a warrant or consent, contrary to the accounts given in police reports.

In the first case to go to trial, Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, and Officer Edmond Robles, 47, of Danville, were convicted in a different judge’s court on Dec. 5 of charges related to a scheme in which they stole money and property they seized during searches in 2009 and divided the proceeds. Their convictions included conspiracy to violate civil rights, wire fraud and theft from a federally funded program.

The men were working out of the department’s Mission Station. A third defendant in that case, former Officer Reynaldo Vargas, pleaded guilty to four charges and testified against his former colleagues at their trial in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer. Furminger and Robles are scheduled to be sentenced by Breyer on Feb. 23 and Vargas’s sentencing has not yet been set.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said in a statement Thursday’s verdict appears to bring the federal criminal investigation to an end:

“This investigation has been a cloud over the Department for almost four years. … The officers convicted in federal court of the charges brought against them have not only betrayed the public’s trust but also the trust of the honest hardworking men and women of this proud department who work so hard to keep this great city safe.”

Suhr said he will seek to have Razzak’s employment terminated by the Police Commission. He said last month he is seeking the same result for Furminger and Robles.

He said Yick, having been acquitted, will be immediately reinstated and will be assigned to administrative work “until the administrative portion of this case is resolved.”

Both sets of officers were suspended without pay after being charged in two separate indictments on Feb. 25. Razzak and Yick were originally also charged with violations related to a second allegedly illegal search of a different Henry Hotel room on Jan. 5, 2011.

Both were accused of deprivation of civil rights and Yick was charged with falsifying the police report on that incident. But prosecutors dropped the charges related to that search a few days before the trial began.

A third officer who participated in the Jan. 5, 2011, search, Raul Elias, was charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights and deprivation of civil rights in connection with that search. But the deprivation charge was dropped and Elias’s trial on the remaining conspiracy charge has been put on hold while he is evaluated for a pretrial diversion program, according to court records.

The surveillance tapes that set off the federal investigation were obtained by investigators for lawyers in Adachi’s office who were defending people arrested in the drug searches.

On March 2, 2011, Adachi made public the surveillance tapes of the two Henry Hotel incidents, which appeared to show officers entering the rooms without permission. Defense lawyers had used the tapes to obtain dismissals of cases against three people arrested in the two searches on suspicion of heroin possession.

Over the next three months, Adachi released several more videotapes that appeared to show police misconduct. Separately from the federal investigation, the disclosure of the videotapes resulted by the end of May 2011 in the dismissal in the state court system of 119 drug and attempted robbery cases of people who had been arrested by various officers, according to the San Francisco district attorney’s office.

The U.S. investigation resulted in the two federal grand jury indictments issued on Feb. 25. Both charged the officers with conspiring to violate civil rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, as well as with additional federal counts.

One indictment named Furminger, Robles and Vargas in the theft case and the other accused Razzak, Yick and Elias of illegal searches. The civil rights conspiracy convictions carry a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and the other convictions of Furminger, Robles, Vargas and Razzak have maximum sentences of one to 20 years.

Suhr, who took office in April 2011, said the federal investigation has been his “gravest concern” since then because “the public’s trust is everything to us”:

“I want to assure the public that policies, procedures, and ongoing training to those policies and procedures, along with additional supervision of officers working in plainclothes put in place during the first weeks of my administration, (will) safeguard against even the suggestion of anything like this happening again.”