Three years after surveillance videos surfaced showing plainclothes San Francisco police officers apparently stealing from, and abusing, low-income residential hotel residents, the U.S. Attorneys Office announced two indictments and a string of arrests Friday.
By the end of the day, four current officers had pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, another appeared in court but did not plea and a former officer pleaded not guilty.
Three Southern Station defendants were charged in a grand jury indictment with “conspiracy against civil rights and deprivation of rights under color of law.” Two of those three were charged with falsification of records. A second grand jury indictment accused two officers and one former officer from Mission Station of “conspiracies to distribute controlled substances, against civil rights, and to commit theft concerning federally-funded programs.” One of them was also accused of extortion.
The indictments date back to incidents captured on video in December 2010 and January 2011 and released two months later by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. The footage appears to show narcotics officers making two separate drug arrests after entering rooms without permission or a warrant. Reports filed by the officers said they received verbal permission. Both cases were dismissed when the videos were revealed.
Other footage shows officers walking out of rooms with what appears to be bags of personal possessions, including a laptop computer, that were never logged as evidence.
The investigation was quickly turned over to the FBI by the District Attorney’s Office and more than 100 criminal cases were suddenly dropped. By November 2011, word had spread that a grand jury was calling witnesses to testify in at least one ongoing investigation related to the videos.
Sergeant Ian Furminger, Officer Edmond Robles and former Officer Reynaldo Vargas allegedly participated in “multiple conspiracies.” Vargas, a 13-year veteran who was fired in May 2012, reportedly took a $500 Apple Gift Card from a suspect and used it to buy an iPad Nano and an iPhone. They were also accused of stealing marijuana from a suspect and having street informants sell it for them.
The Public Defender’s Office said it had received complaints about criminal behavior like this by police for years.
The five current officers were suspended without pay by Police Chief Greg Suhr, who was appointed to his post two months before the videos were released. He called the alleged officers’ actions a “betrayal of public trust.”
Vargas has an appeal of his firing pending in court.