Police officers accused of theft in videotaped incidents

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Jeff Adachi and Jesus Reyes narrate a surveillance video that appears to show officers stealing Reyes' property after a raid.
Steven T. Jones

In the two such incidents exposed in less than a week by the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, San Francisco Police officers have been caught on surveillance videotape appearing to steal personal property from suspects whose homes were searched for drugs, searches that were also likely to be considered illegal.
“We’re very concerned that these officers are still active, still on the streets, and still testifying in court,” Public Defender Jeff Adachi said during a press conference today, later adding, “We have a pattern of illegal searches and seizures that are occurring.” He called the undocumented property nabs “thefts” and raised doubts about whether officers were actually given permission by the suspects to enter the rooms, as they claimed in their reports.
During Adachi’s press conference, Police Chief Greg Suhr – who was shown the latest video footage on Friday – issued a statement saying the charges were being investigated and the officers involved were being taken off plainclothed duty pending the outcome.
Two officers, Ronaldo Vargas and Richard Guerrero, were involved in both of the videotaped incidents that Adachi released in the last week. In the latest -- from a Feb. 25 incident involving 65-year-old Jesus Reyes in which he was stopped in a van and police then searched his apartment at the Julian Hotel, where officers say they found a small amount of methamphetamines – the pair can be seen entering empty-handed and leaving with bags that Reyes says contained his video camera and his nephew’s laptop computer. Neither item was booked into evidence and they remain missing.
In the earlier incident, the officers were accused of stealing a duffel bag during a Dec. 30 raid on a room at the Jefferson Hotel. Adachi has also released four other videotaped police raids in recent months that all seem to show officer misconduct and false statements in their subsequent police reports. And the recent spate of revelations follows a scandal last year in which police and prosecutors withheld information on officer misconduct from the Public Defenders Office and other defense attorneys, despite legal requirements that they share that information. Judges have now dismissed hundreds of criminal cases because of the misconduct by police and prosecutors, and Adachi said the FBI is also investigating the pattern of behavior by SFPD officers.
The drug charges against Reyes were dropped when Guerrero failed to show at the hearing despite being subpoenaed by defense attorneys. But Guerrero was actually on the stand yesterday testifying as a prosecution witness in an unrelated case, raising question about why the DA’s office and SFPD would allow the testimony of someone whose credibility has now been called into serious question.
Reyes said it was his first arrest and that he has no criminal background, but Adachi said that a couple years ago, Vargas was disciplined by the Police Commission after slashing a suspect’s face with a broken pipe.