The Grid

Officers, Police Thyselves
Sgts. Steve Bosshard and John A. Haggett are legendary in criminal defense and police oversight circles. Notoriously legendary.

"In my opinion, he's a perfect asshole," says defense attorney Dennis Cunningham of Haggett, whom he has sued. Over their combined 40 years of service, the two veteran San Francisco cops have been in and out of trouble. Mostly in. And they're in the soup again.

On Sept. 9, Bosshard and Haggett -- along with two other officers -- will face a disciplinary hearing before the Police Commission. The new charges, lodged by the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), the cop watchdog agency, stem from a debacle of a raid on an AIDS benefit in the early morning hours of New Year's Day 1995. Haggett, Bosshard, and the two other officers are accused of a number of violations: tossing people to the ground without cause; throwing them into police vans cuffed and face first; being evasive with investigators; and acting in a prejudicial, anti-gay manner.

No one should be surprised by the charges. A review of civil lawsuits and internal Police Department discipline records dating back to 1980 shows that both men have lengthy and sometimes shocking misconduct records. Not just the ordinary arm-twisting, rude behavior cops are accused of all the time. We're talking some pretty ugly stuff.

And expensive. In one early '80s case, Bosshard and another officer cost the city close to $80,000 in an out-of-court settlement after they were accused in federal court of helping landlords evict hippies from the Haight in violation of the tenants' constitutional rights. (If Bosshard and Haggett are found guilty in the AIDS benefit case, their past cases will be considered when the Police Commission metes out punishment.)

But browsing through equally important records -- the Police Department's commendation books -- it becomes clear that Bosshard and Haggett are also heavily decorated, valorous officers. They have saved lives and exhibited remarkable restraint in life-threatening situations, cases where they easily could have used deadly force but chose not to.

Many cop advocates would say that the two patterns are part of the same braid, that any aggressive cop who is serious about fighting crime will draw a lot of complaints. They would be right. What's disturbing is that the two sets of records reveal a Police Department that has been unable to identify and prevent tenacity from devolving into brutality -- at least as far as Bosshard and Haggett are concerned.

One of the questions before the Police Commission when they hear the case of the AIDS benefit raid will be: Are Bosshard and Haggett worthy of the silver shield at all? In answering that, the commissioners should consider the alleged abuse in the context of the two officers' overall careers -- good and bad -- and the department's own failings in fostering better behavior.

Neither Bosshard nor Haggett nor their attorneys would consent to be interviewed for this story. Still, the official record is illuminating.

Both men entered the department as the good-old-boy era waned, Bosshard in 1970 and Haggett in 1982. The OCC did not exist, and discipline and oversight were pretty much left to each man's -- and they were mostly men -- fellow officers and superiors. The only real way to hold an officer accountable was through civil lawsuits and the occasional internal disciplinary action. The latter would usually occur only under the most extreme circumstances.

Like March 24, 1982, when two officers were called to Bosshard's house after a woman reported shots being fired. Once there, the officers found Bosshard waving his gun around; he was naked and apparently drunk. Bosshard was suspended for 30 days without pay after the Police Commission heard the case. Seven years later, Bosshard was sued for accidentally Mace-ing an 11-month-old infant during a raid on a house in Potrero Hill. He denied using Mace, but hospital records backed up the mother's claim. Rather than go to trial, the mother settled for a nominal amount of money from the city.

Haggett, however, has the more spectacular misconduct record. On May 30, 1987, according to Police Commission records, he approached a minor in the parking lot of a supermarket. He asked to see the youth's ID and to look in a bag he was carrying. After finally seeing the ID, but being repeatedly denied a look in the bag (which held two six-packs as it turned out), Haggett allegedly threw the youth down on the hood of his patrol car, whipped out his service revolver, and struck the boy in the face with the gun.

Earlier that same year, according to commission records, Haggett and several other officers approached a group of men after responding to a report of a fight. Haggett ordered the men to sit down. One of the men, who had an injured hip, did not sit down quickly, and Haggett pushed him in the chest. The man grabbed at Haggett's shirt to catch his balance and Haggett struck him in the face with his radio, breaking the man's nose. In a conversation with an OCC investigator who asked Haggett about the department's use-of-force guidelines, Haggett said he was unfamiliar with its contents and added, "That's an opinion written by people that don't work in the street anymore."

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