- This Week
Party people, watch out: undercover cop Larry Bertrand has declared war on San Francisco nightlife
Guardian illustration of Larry Bertrand by Joel Kimmel
She came upon the aftermath of a melee between police and partygoers that had taken place after a fundraising event at a SoMa warehouse art space was upended. The benefit was organized to raise legal funds for students who staged a building occupation at the University of California at Berkeley, in defiance of budget cuts.
The event was clearly chaotic, and it's hard to sort out exactly what happened and when. City officials say the partiers were throwing bottles and firecrackers at the police; people at the event say the cops started it all.
But the tales partygoers tell about the behavior of Bertrand and Ott, the undercover enforcers, are similar to a series of other stories involving the pair, stories published in the Guardian and elsewhere.
There had been multiple arrests by the time Peak arrived on the scene. Numerous witnesses asserted that things were going along without incident until a fire marshal arrived in response to a complaint, and in short order, two officers who'd been there in plainclothes for hours — Bertrand and Ott — began shouting, tackling people, and kicking in doors.
Police Chief George Gascón acknowledged that the department has been targeting underground parties. "We get a lot of resident complaints about it," he said in a recent Guardian interview. "We're talking about a lot of the underground parties, or the parties where the promoters are exceeding their authorities to a number of people."
Several hundred attended this particular party. Of the 11 people arrested, eight were either detained or cited and released. None faced underage drinking or drug charges. At least five were charged with resisting arrest. One individual was charged with vandalism, two were charged with battery on an officer, and two detained for being drunk in public.
Peak began photographing the scene: busted-up chairs, uniformed officers guarding the entrance, police cars everywhere. She zoomed her lens to capture the wreckage inside. None of the uniformed officers seemed to have a problem with her — but when she spotted the undercover officers with exposed badges, that changed.
The cops broke through the door, yelling. "They said, 'This is an investigation, you're not allowed to be here.'<0x2009> she said. "We told them we were with the press." They threatened to arrest her.
Shortly after, the plainclothes officers crossed in front of her to an unmarked car. She took another picture. Bertrand, a tall guy with a shaved head, allegedly turned and grabbed her arm, and both officers shouted at her. "[Ott] said to me, 'Your flash has impeded my investigation,'" Peak recounted. She was cuffed and arrested on the spot, and her camera was confiscated.
She was cited for obstruction of justice, but the charges were dropped. And she got her camera back — but says the SD memory card, where all the photos were stored — was missing.
"I flipped [the camera] open ... and found the SD card was missing," she said. She asked Bertrand where it was. "He said, 'I don't know what you're talking about,'" Peak recalled. Bertrand, she recalled, then looked around at a group of officers watching the exchange, and announced, "This woman is refusing to leave. I'm going to have to re-arrest her." Ott appeared, according to Peak, and insisted that there was no evidence the memory card had been in the camera in the first place.
"My camera will not ignite a flash unless there's a memory card in there," Peak explained. In the end, she left empty-handed — without photos of the undercover officers.