Connecting the dots between Lennar's vendors

Too close for comfort?
Sitrick’s office in Miami is located at 66 West Flagler Street, in Suite 410, which sounds just a short stroll from Verasys’s office in Miami, which is located at 66 West Flagler Street, in Suite 401

Tomorrow (April 20), the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to support Sup. Chris Daly’s resolution to urge the Lennar Corp. to issue a formal, written apology to members of the Stop Lennar Action Movement and the City and County of San Francisco for irresponsible and potentially dangerous behavior.

At issue is a Feb. 18 incident in which a retired SFPD officer took a concealed weapon to a community meeting at the Nation of Islam’s Third Street mosque, where he gave a false name--and ended up handcuffed to a light pole.

If the past is any indication, plenty of allegations will be swirling tomorrow. So, before that drama unfolds, here is what’s in the public record, so far.

After questions arose as to whether the retired SFPD officer was employed by Lennar's public relations subcontractor Sitrick and Company, or global security giant Andrews International, which swallowed up Lennar's security subcontractor Verasys LLC, last fall, Lennar Urban’s president Kofi Bonner sought to clarify the Feb. 18 incident.

In an April 15 letter, Bonner tried to reassure Daly, other elected officials and the community, “that we are working to ensure that such an episode will never happen again.”

“You can be assured that no one from Lennar has any wish to escalate the atmosphere of blame and suspicion that led to this incident, which we truly regret happened,” Bonner said.

“As part of this effort the vendor and subcontractor most directly involved have expressed their apologies and clarified the record and facts surrounding this unfortunate occurrence,” Bonner said.

Bonner was referring to an April 14 letter that Verasys’ managing partner D.C. Page sent to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors.
“Verasys was requested by our client, Lennar, to send a consultant to take notes at the public hearing,” Page wrote. “Lennar did not at any time ask that the consultant carry a firearm to the meeting and was not informed in advance that he had a concealed weapon.”

"Similarly, we had no way of knowing that the retired police officer whom we assigned to attend the meeting was going to a mosque or a house of worship,” Page continued. “Had we known, we would have ensured that the consultant did not bring a firearm to the meeting. We apologize to anyone who was offended by the presence of a weapon at a community meeting.”

Daly also received an April 14 letter from consultant Denise LaPointe, who clarified that Sitrick and Company has worked for Lennar and its subsidiaries since 2007.
“The Miami office originally hired the public relations firm to work on various matters relating to Lennar, which is a publicly traded company,” LaPointe wrote.

“As a result, the Los Angeles office of Sitrick became engaged with Lennar’s efforts in California including, but not limited to, the Hunter’s Point Shipyard project,” LaPointe continued, noting that Sitrick has offices in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco and New York, in addition to its Miami and Los Angeles offices.

(Sitrick’s office in Miami is located at 66 West Flagler Street, in Suite 410, which sounds like just a short stroll from Verasys’s office in Miami, which is located at 66 West Flagler Street, in Suite 401.)

‘In my experience, Sitrick and Company has worked in concert with Singer and Associates, a firm with a contractual agreement with Lennar dating back to 2000,” LaPointe continued, noting that Sitrick and Singer are both “communications firms specializing in large companies with complex public relations needs.”

Finally, LaPointe noted that the retired police officer didn’t have a contract with Andrews International.
“I have been informed that no contract exists,” LaPointe wrote.

Last but not least, an attorney for the retired SFPD officer sent the Board an apology, dated April 15, on behalf of his client.

“I would like to sincerely apologize for taking a concealed and un-displayed firearm to a community meeting held at the Nation of Islam center in Bayview Hunters Point on Feb. 18,” reads the apology, which was submitted by attorney James A. Lassart, who works in the San Francisco offices of Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley.

“I was assigned by a security firm, Verasys LLC, to attend a public meeting to make a record of a lecture concerning a draft environmental impact report,” Lassart’s client continues. “As a retired police officer in good standing with the San Francisco Police Department after 33 years of service, I routinely carry a concealed firearm and am licensed by the state of California to do so. Neither Verasys nor Lennar was aware that I had a firearm that night, nor did they request that I take one.”

”Notwithstanding my legal right to carry a firearm, I was unaware that the presence of my firearm would result in so much controversy,” Lassart’s client continues. “Had I known the meeting was being held in a house of worship, I would not have brought a weapon.”

“I am hopeful that my own ordeal that night is not forgotten,” the retired SFPD officer's apology letter concludes. “I am withholding my identity because I was terrified by what happened to me and continue to fear for my safety. I was held against my will for nearly an hour, handcuffed to a light pole and repeatedly threatened with death by members of the Nation of Islam.”

Reached by phone, Daly said the letters don’t do what the resolution asks of Lennar.

“First, they are not addressed to the coalition,” Daly said, referring to the Stop Lennar Action Movement. “And I don’t need an apology.”

Daly said the letters seem to apologize for not knowing the meeting was held at a mosque, but not for sending an armed guy into a community meeting.

“It almost seems as if the letters were constructed in such a way as to avoid taking responsibility," Daly said.

Calls to Lassart, the attorney for the retired police officer, remained unreturned as of this blog's posting time.

At tomorrow’s Board meeting, there will be public comment on Daly's resolution, but not a hearing into what happened Feb. 18, since a Board committee examined that incident at an April 12 meeting. So, in an effort to shine light on the serious issues that were raised on both sides of the equation, here are the main points from the SFPD report on the Feb. 18 incident:

According to the SFPD report, two officers were dispatched to 5048 Third Street, which houses the Nation’s Center for Self Improvement and Community Development, around 11.14 p.m, Feb. 18, regarding a “possible gun call” that involved “an approximately 50-year-old white male with a gun, surrounded by a group of eight black males.”

When the officers arrived, they found “a white male”, who identified himself as Robert “Bob” Tarantino* (the name given on the police report is not the real name of the retired SFPD officer) with his arms handcuffed in front of him around a light pole, and several black males surrounding him," the report states.

The police asked Bob if he had a gun and he said yes, it was located in his left, rear pants pocket. The police removed the gun. Bob then told them that he was “a retired Q50 (Sergeant)”.
In the man's wallet, police found a retired SFPD ID card that bore a CCW-approved logo on it, “thus allowing him to legally carry a concealed weapon,” the police report observes.
The retired officer also had a California Guard registration card in his wallet.

The report notes that Nation of Islam member Mark Muhammad told the police that night that he was responsible for handcuffing the retired officer and that he wanted to make a citizen’s arrest.
“However, he did not have the key in his possession and would have to go home to get it,” the report states, adding that Muhammad returned a few minutes later and unlocked the handcuffs on Bob, who willingly agreed to return to the Bayview Station, pending further investigation.

When the police interviewed Mark Muhammad, he said it was brought to his attention that Bob, who arrived at the meeting around 7 p.m. with an associate, was attempting to record what was said in the meeting. Muhammad told the police that The Nation doesn’t allow recordings, “unless they have our permission.”

Muhammad said he asked Bob if he could speak with him outside, where he advised him that he could not record the meeting. After speaking with Bob, Muhammad cross-referenced the man’s alleged name with the sign-in sheet and found a different name.
Two other Nation members informed Mark that they had seen, “the imprint of a firearm in the man’s left rear pants pocket as he went to sit at his seat.”
According to the police report, when the Nation members confronted Bob, he denied having a firearm, at which point they physically escorted him from the building.

Once outside, Muhammad told Bob he was going to make a citizen’s arrest.
Muhammad subsequently told the police that at no point did Bob, “brandish a firearm, gesture as if he had a pistol, nor did he physically assault him, or any other members of the congregation throughout the entire incident.”

Muhammad told police that Bob said to him, “You are making a mistake Mark! You’re going about this the wrong way! You are going about this completely wrong! You’ll see!”

The police report notes that Muhammad told police that he interpreted these words as threats. However, the police told Muhammad that since nothing Bob said was an actual threat, he could not be arrested.

Muhammad then told the police that he wanted to make a citizen’s arrest for trespassing, and the officers accepted the citizen’s arrest “pending further investigation of the allegation.”

At the Bayview station, Bob produced a flyer advertising the meeting.
“The flyer stated that the meeting was open to the public, and anyone in the community was welcome to attend,” the police report states.

Bob told the police that he admitted having a tape recorder to the Nation's Miles Muhammad, but denied taping the meeting.
Bob said Miles at first demanded the recorder, but eventually requested Bob’s name and contact information, then returned with Mark Muhammad, who questioned the validity of his contact information and then asked him to leave.

Bob told the police that as he got up and walked to the door, Mark Muhammad grabbed his right arm and Miles grabbed his left arm, forcing him out of the building.
Bob said that as he was being forced out, Mark said,” You have a gun,” and “You brought a gun in here.”
Bob told the police that he denied having a gun and said it was his wallet.

Outside the building, Bob said Mark, Miles, Terrance Muhammad, and an unknown person threw him against a wall.

Bob said he asked to leave, but was held against his will for approximately half an hour.

According to the police report, Bob said Mark yelled “You white motherfucker!” and “You come to our place.”
The report states that when Bob asked to leave again, Terrance said, “If you move I’ll break your fucking arm.”

Bob said Mark eventually had him call his supervisor in Florida.

Bob said that conversation “lasted for ten minutes of Mark screaming at [Bob’s] supervisor.”

Bob said he feared the Nation members would take his firearm from him. He said he told them he had a legal right to carry a firearm and had documentation to prove it.
“At that point Mark grabbed his left wrist and handcuffed it and forced him to the light pole and handcuffed him to the light pole,”  the police report states.

Bob said he pleaded with the Nation to call 9-11.
According to the police report, “Mark replied, ‘Don’t tell us what to fucking do,’ and ‘You ain’t going nowhere.’”

Bob said he was handcuffed to the light pole for about ten minutes before police arrived.
He again said he was in fear of his life and his associates’ life and believed Mark, Miles, Terrance and the unknown suspect were going to physically harm him. Bob also said during the entire time he never made any threats towards any one and was fully cooperating with the nation.

SFPD’s Captain Jimenez, who headed the police’s investigation into the incident, “decided that due to the fact that the meeting was open to the public and anyone in the community was invited to attend and the fact that Bob did not refuse to leave the meeting once ordered by Muhammad, he could not be cited for trespassing and he was subsequently released.

“Prior to leaving, Bob gladly provided the SFPD with his personal information however requested it be kept confidential as he was concerned with the possible retaliation by the individuals involved in the incident,” the report concludes, noting that Sgt. Daniels took all evidence and took it into custody at the Bayview Station.