By A.C. Thompson
It starts with a bullet. At about 8:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2003, a burly undercover cop named Paul R. Lozada opened fire on a suspect named Andre Reid, who was sitting in a black Honda SUV in a Walgreens parking lot on Third Street. Reid was wanted for allegedly trying to kill two people in the Potrero Hill housing projects.
Publicly, the San Francisco Police Department portrayed the shooting as unavoidable, saying Lozada had acted in self-defense when Reid tried to flatten him with the SUV.
But behind the scenes some of Lozada's superiors weren't so sure. In fact, the Reid shooting prompted department brass to start scrutinizing the cop's history. They discovered Lozada has quite a propensity for firing bullets at people one high-ranking officer circulated a remarkable internal memo suggesting the cop has been embroiled in more than 20 shooting incidents.
"20+ shootings in less than 15 years of service requires a thorough investigation and it is the obligation of his supervisors to do so," then-commander James Dudley wrote in the April 22, 2003, memo.
Lozada, who was assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force, told Dudley he was wrong; he'd actually only been involved in eight shootings, including the bullet he'd directed Reid's way.
"It was eight shootings where I had to discharge my weapon," Lozada told the Bay Guardian. "But I was involved in well over 100 life-and-death situations. Do you think I would've received medals of valor for these shootings if I'm as bad as they say I am?"
By Lozada's tally, he's hit "five or six" people.
Whatever the case, the numbers amazed the law enforcement gurus we interviewed. "I don't know how the hell you'd accumulate 8 to 20 shootings," said D.P. Van Blaricom, the former police chief of Bellevue, Wash., and an expert on the use of force. "Most officers are never involved in one shooting."
But Lozada isn't your typical cop. The decorated 41-year-old officer talks like a street hustler, favors fine Italian suits and designer shoes, and once described himself in an interview as a "gangster." Midway through his career, he voluntarily took badge number 187, the penal code designation for homicide. To some on the force, he's a hero, a man who's made scores of gutsy arrests while assigned to some of the toughest units. To others, Lozada's a nightmare, a thuggish figure with a penchant for blurring the line between cop and criminal.
. . .
Dudley, who's now captain of the Special Operations and Security section, placed Lozada on desk duty while the circumstances of the shooting were probed. That move prompted Lozada to sue, saying he'd been disciplined unfairly, and today his lawsuit continues to wend its way through the courts paperwork generated during the course of the suit fills six bulging file folders. At this point, Lozada is hanging out at home on medical leave.
The City Attorney's Office is trying to scuttle Lozada's suit, and in August a deputy city attorney questioned Lozada about the discrepancy between the two figures: why did he think he'd popped off eight times, while police brass put the number at "20+"?
"Where do you think Dudley got that number?" attorney David Carrillo asked, according to a transcript of the interview.
A: I don't know.
Q: Do you think there's anything you might have said that could've led him to that belief?
A: Not to him. Not to anybody.... That's kind of a shot in the dark.
Seeking the SFPD's official take on the matter, we contacted spokesperson Neville Gittens, who said the department doesn't comment on pending litigation. He referred our questions to the City Attorney's Office, which had no comment.
Policing experts we spoke to were a little baffled by how the department could be unclear on a basic question like how many times a cop has unloaded on people. "Any department would certainly want to know the number of shootings an officer is involved in, even if they're all legitimate," said Berkeley lawyer Jim Chanin, who helped win a $10 million settlement in the Oakland Riders police corruption case. The SFPD, he told us, "sounds like a department that doesn't know what's going on" within the ranks.
Van Blaricom agreed. "You should absolutely know how many shootings an officer is involved in. That should be in the officer's personnel file," he said. "It's a simple matter."
. . .
Andre Reid is currently wearing orange and dwelling in a cell on the sixth floor of the county jail. He's facing robbery charges unconnected to his run-in with Lozada and is expected to stand trial later this month.
Sitting in a small cinder-block room, Reid recounted his brush with death. Lozada and "two other people ran up and started banging on my window with guns. They said, 'If you move, we gonna shoot you,' " he recalled. "I didn't know who they was. I just got the fuck outta Dodge."
In Reid's version of events, Lozada and the other cops, who were all in civilian garb, didn't identify themselves as officers and weren't wearing badges. "I'd just been robbed the week before. I wasn't taking any chances," Reid told us.
Lozada, Reid said, jumped in front of the vehicle and loosed a single bullet aimed directly at him. The round obliterated the windshield before grazing his cheek, leaving a nasty wound. Reid crashed the SUV near Holly Park, ditched it, and took off into the night.
Lozada told a different story. By his account, the bullet missed Reid entirely. Lozada also said that he told Reid he was a cop and that Reid "almost hit me twice backing up and going forward."
Some very strange things happened when police finally cuffed Reid about six weeks later. For starters, police never even charged him in the Potrero Hill case a double shooting even though it was that crime that set the whole manhunt in motion.
"The cops didn't even ask me about it," Reid told us.
They did, however, hit him with a bunch of heavy-duty felonies: trying to kill Lozada with the SUV, aggravated assault, and resisting arrest. It doesn't get much more serious than attempting to murder a cop, and Reid, 18 at the time, was facing life without parole if convicted.
Then, in October 2003, the District Attorney's Office quietly dropped all charges against Reid for reasons that remain unexplained. The decision came after Reid's lawyer made a series of motions demanding the disciplinary histories of Lozada and the other cops. Court documents indicate the disciplinary records were discussed in confidential hearings before the judge. And shortly thereafter, Reid was back in circulation.
"I'm puzzled by how he walked with absolutely no sentence," Lozada's lawyer, Philip Kaplan, said.
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So let's get this straight: here's a guy accused of trying to put three people in the ground one of them a cop. He's in a cage in lieu of posting $2 million bail. But when Reid's attorney starts digging into Lozada's past one representative brief asks for police paperwork documenting the cop's "reputation for violence, improper tactics and deceit" the prosecutor and police suddenly decide Reid isn't such a bad guy after all and cut him loose.
Perhaps Reid was completely clean from the start. Maybe the cops had a paucity of hard evidence implicating him and should never have wrapped him up.
Or perhaps the SFPD really didn't want the truth about Lozada's proclivity for engaging in gunplay to spill out in court during a public trial.
A third option is that somebody in this town's monumentally dysfunctional law enforcement establishment wanted to telegraph a blunt message to Lozada: we don't care if you live or die.
Whatever the case, there's something very unsettling about this whole shady episode. And it's just one vignette in a dark and sprawling narrative.
E-mail A.C. Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.