Supervisorial candidate excuses police abuse

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By Steven T. Jones

Scott Wiener seems to have a real zeal for his job as a deputy city attorney defending San Francisco against police abuse lawsuits, but his attitude and public statements raise serious concerns about his goal of being elected to the District 8 seat on the Board of Supervisors next year.
Take this story, for example, in which Wiener is defending the city in an excessive force case in which Officer Sean Frost and other SFPD officers chased down Chen Ming after being called to a loud argument in SoMa. After they caught him and held him down, Frost hit Ming in the face with his billyclub, breaking Chen’s jaw and knocking out 10 of his teeth.
“The officer did not do anything wrong,” Wiener told the Chronicle, a statement he repeated to me the other day, although he wouldn’t say more about how he arrived at that conclusion (such as whether it was supported by an internal affairs investigation), claiming he could not discuss the facts of the case.
Yet excusing such obviously excessive force -- including use of a billyclub in a way that goes against officer training and SFPD general orders, and using extreme violence against a suspect who was down and not threatening anyone -- is commenting on the facts of this case.
Wiener could have simply denied the city’s culpability in a general way, but he chose to go further, excusing inexcusable police conduct and sending a scary message to the general public.

Comments

Weiner is the officer's *attorney,* also known as his advocate -- he's not simply a city servant, like the mayor. Like it or not, our legal system is adversarial, and so for those engaged in the system, having an advocate that does not strongly support your version of the facts is a complete disservice. And perhaps malpractice.

To blast Weiner for doing his job shows you're either simply misinformed about an attorney's role in defending his client, or, worse, you're consciously exploiting your readers' possible ignorance of our legal system and the crucial role defense attorney's play in vigorously defending their clients, however one-sided or horrendous one might initially view the case.

If the cop acted wrongly, that will come out in court. The plaintiff's attorney, I would hope, is well equipped to present a case showing the officer acted wrongly and his client should be compensated. The City, I would also hope, will be able to show that the facts present a different case and, despite plaintiff's awful injuries, the law says the officer did not act wrongly. A jury will decide who's right.

Or, we can have Steve Jones declare that anyone who is hurt by a cop -- in any situation -- automatically gets compensation from the city, and that the cop who caused the injury should be fired.

Posted by Frederick on Mar. 14, 2009 @ 12:56 pm

Yes, Concerned, and Chen had a constitutional right not to get beaten by a police officer, as well as a right not to have a public servant unilaterally justify this attack and essentially say he deserved what he got. That unnecessarily added insult to this injury and had nothing to do with providing a legal defense for San Francisco taxpayers, which is Wiener's role here.
Why are we as a society so willing to automatically defend the actions of police officers and condemn the victims of violence as somehow deserving it? If the roles were reversed and it was a cop who suffered this kind of brutality, this would be front page news and San Francisco would be screaming for justice. Instead, Chen is simply the latest in a long line of poor immigrants to be beaten up by a cop, someone easily condemned then dismissed by official San Francisco.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Mar. 14, 2009 @ 11:52 am

There's a wide gulf between firing the officer and "this officer did not do anything wrong," just as there's a big difference between this officer's attorney and a deputy city attorney, who must take into account the broad public interest, which means not acting as if he's simply this officer's attorney. In fact, it's the City Attorney's Office that takes an adversarial role toward officers who use excessive force and try to fight their punishment.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Mar. 14, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

Steven,

Don't you need a disclaimer her telling your readers that your girlfriend was a candidate for the D-8 seat that Wiener seeks?

h.

Posted by h. brown on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 9:49 am

Isn't this Wiener guy just doing his job? EVERYONE is presumed innocent until proven guilty and this officer has a constitutional right to a defense. I love the SFBG but this is just divisive material.
Concerned

Posted by Concerned on Mar. 14, 2009 @ 9:42 am

H,
No. For one thing, Alix is my ex-girlfriend (but still a close friend). More importantly, she's not running this time, so it's irrelevant.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

I see the Guardian is already starting a smear campaign on candidates. Right or Left this is pretty ugly behaviour.

Posted by Chris P on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 10:30 am

Steven,

The kernel buried here is that City Attorney Dennis Herrera has assigned all these brutal cop defenses to Wiener. Hardly sounds like he's trying to advance the elongated one's career.

Having defended every thug cop from Jesse Serna to this guy I'm betting that if a cop kills someone in the Castro before the election that Herrera will assign Wiener to defend the killer cop. Can you see the campaign posters already:

'Wiener defends homophobe killer cops!'

I'm betting if this were 1978 that Wiener would have been assigned to defend Dan White.

Anyone know who Dan's got in D-8?

Could be Alix Rosenthal?

h.

Posted by h. brown on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

Hey Steve, great to see you follow up on this story. It caught my attention, particularly Weiner's comment: "The officer did not do anything wrong."

Unless Weiner was a witness to the arrest, making such a conclusion implies he has already tried and judged this case.

Luke Thomas
FogCityJournal.com

Posted by Luke Thomas on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

Adam,
Wiener tried to make that same point to me, that these were merely allegations. But it's a fact that Chen had his jaw broken and teeth knocked out by a police baton. We know that. And Wiener's statement wasn't simply a denial of the allegations in the claim, as you try to twist his words. Wiener said that this officer did nothing wrong. Of course he did something wrong. Officers are not supposed to hit people in the mouth with their batons, no matter what the circumstances. That amounts to potentially deadly force that no recitation of the facts in this case justifies, whether it be the police account or that of the victim.
Besides, what if the discovery process in this case shows that Officer Frost is indeed someone who often uses excessive force and shouldn't be on the street? He'll sure be happy to use Wiener's words in his defense when he sues the city for wrongful termination. If Wiener considers it prudent not to discuss the facts of pending litigation, perhaps he should follow his own advice and avoid making declarative factual statements about a particular officer's actions.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

Scott Wiener has put his name out there as a candiate for Suprevisor. The only reason this piece was written, is that SF Bay Guardian thinks he is not as progressive as they like. Watch over the next year there will be more items like this, half truths and miss-informatiom, and with people like Luke coming to the defense it can only get worse. This is as fascist as the Republicains, take a bath after reading as it is dirty politics and contemptuous.

Posted by Chris P on Mar. 14, 2009 @ 5:58 pm

Your blog is misleading by making it sound as if the City is acknowledging the abusive actions and saying that the abusive actions are OK. If you read other (more reliable) reporting on this, you'll find out that City is actually disputing the facts alleged by the plaintiff. In other words, the quote you gave above from Wiener doesn't mean he approves of abuse. What it means is: "The City believes that the cop didn't do what the plaintiff says he did."

Posted by Adam on Mar. 13, 2009 @ 11:07 am