Two officers showed up and almost immediately placed Rodis in handcuffs before trying to ascertain if he'd actually attempted to defraud Walgreens.
"They made no effort to determine what the situation was ... they just assumed," Rodis said. "When she said 'Put your hands behind your back,' I thought I was in some Twilight Zone moment."
A third ranking officer on the scene, Sgt. Jeff Barry, had known Rodis for years as a local lawyer and City College trustee. Their sons were classmates. But Barry allegedly failed to step in and question whether Rodis was likely to be a fraud artist.
Another officer, Michelle Liddicoet, told Rodis she knew who he was and that he "should be ashamed of himself," according to the suit.
Feeling humiliated as other Filipinos he knew looked on, Rodis was put into the back of a patrol car and taken to Taraval Station, where he was handcuffed to a bench. There he waited another 30 minutes or so until the police officers were able to reach the Secret Service, which investigates currency for the US Treasury Department. A federal agent confirmed that the bill was likely genuine. The whole ordeal lasted about a couple of hours and Rodis was driven back to the drug store.
"This wasn't a situation where Mr. Rodis was held in jail overnight or for a week or had to post some large amount in bail," Wiener said.
Fagan sent out a department memo shortly afterward stating that suspects have to know the currency they're using is counterfeit before being arrested, and in any event, if they insist it's real, the officer can book the bill as evidence for later examination and give them a receipt without arresting anyone.
But by then the damage was done and the hasty reaction of police would lie at the heart of the case that Rodis subsequently filed.
Rodis is an unlikely champion of police accountability. Known for his cantankerous personality, he all but accused the secretary of the San Francisco Veterans Equity Center last month in his regular column for the Philippine News of supporting a band of communist guerillas in the Philippines known as the New People's Army, a charge the man angrily denied.
He bitterly responded with a string of e-mails last year when the Guardian reported he was several months late in sending legally required campaign disclosure forms from his 2004 reelection to the Ethics Commission (see "At the crossroads," 07/17/07).
But the city's police academy also has invited Rodis to lecture recruits about San Francisco's Filipino community as part of the department's sensitivity training. A week after the incident involving Rodis, an elderly Filipino man who sold the San Francisco Chronicle downtown was savagely beaten and robbed of $400. He never found a police officer while walking to his Tenderloin home, where he died. The two incidents, one following on the heels of the other, enraged the city's Filipino population of 36,000, and Rodis believes it proves the police department continues to have trouble with discrimination.
"The fact that it happened to me meant that I was in a position to do something about it," Rodis said of his dust-up. "For many [Filipino immigrants] ... they wouldn't have had the resources or the knowledge of the procedures to fight back. Even up to now, five years later, I still bump into people who appreciate the fact that I filed the action."
The case was assigned to Wiener, who is coincidentally the elected chair of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and a longtime party activist in a city that's famously wary of any perceived threat to civil liberties.
In his capacity as a lawyer for the city, though, Wiener tried to have Rodis' suit tossed using a common courtroom maneuver known as summary judgment.