Law vs. Justice - Page 4

Why is the SF City Attorney's Office pursuing precedents that protect bad police behavior?

Instead the case is still open, and the man who confessed has never been seriously pursued.

Harris spokesperson Erica Derryck said the Ninth Circuit and an internal investigation cleared Butterworth "of any wrongdoing," although she didn't address Guardian questions about what Harris has done to close the case or address its shortcomings.

In fact, the lawyers say they're surprised that the city is so aggressively pushing a case that could ultimately go very badly for the city, particularly given the mounting lawyers' fees.

"When we filed the case, we never thought we'd be here today," Balogh said. "They had a bad hand and instead of folding it and trying to pursue justice in this case, they doubled down."

Herrera doesn't see it that way, instead making a lawyerly argument about what the prosecution team knew and when. "Our belief is there is no evidence that Sanders and Hendrix had information early on that they suppressed," Herrera said. "Based on the facts, I don't think they, Hendrix and Sanders, violated the law. But that's a totally different issue than whether they were innocent.... It's not our role to retry the innocence or guilt of Tennison and Goff."

Herrera said he's limited by the specific facts of this case and the relevant laws. "If the Board of Supervisors wants to do a grant of public funds [to Tennison and Goff], someone can legislate that. But that's not my job," Herrera said.

As far as settling the case in the interests of justice or avoiding a precedent that protects police even when they frame someone for murder, he also said it isn't that simple. Keane also agreed it wouldn't be ethical to settle a case to avoid bad precedents.

"I'm always willing to talk settlement," Herrera said. "This is not an office that makes rash decisions about the cases it chooses to try or settle."

Deputy City Attorney Scott Wiener is the point person on most police misconduct cases, including the Rodis and Tennison cases, as well as another current case in which Officer Sean Frost hit a subdued suspect, Chen Ming, in the face with his baton, breaking his jaw and knocking out 10 teeth.

Wiener, who is running for the District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors and is expected to get backing from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, recently told the Chronicle that Frost "did not do anything wrong." Contacted by the Guardian, Wiener stood by that statement and his record on police cases, but said, "I consider myself to be fair-minded." He also denied having a strong pro-police bias.

Yet those involved with these cases say they go far beyond the zeal of one deputy or the need to safeguard the public treasury. They say that a city like San Francisco needs to put its resources into the service of its values.

"It raises the broader question of what is the city attorney's mandate? Is it fiscal limitation regardless of the truth?" Balogh said. "Dennis Herrera has had a very aggressive policy in defending police officers."

Herrera says he is proud of his record as the city attorney, and before that, as president of the Police Commission. "I believe in police accountability and have made that a big part of what I've done throughout my career."