Cothran

The Squashing of Tippy Mazzucco
Over at the District Attorney's Office, it seems they've developed a new twist to an old saw. In Terry Hallinan's shop, the old saying has been changed to something like this: Fighting crime doesn't pay.

It sure didn't pay for gang prosecutor Thomas "Tippy" Mazzucco, anyway.
Mazzucco, who, most everyone acknowledges, is a diligent, dedicated, and successful crime-fighter, was in charge of an Oct. 30 raid conducted by local and federal agencies at the Marcus Garvey/MLK projects in the Western Addition, at Steiner and Eddy. The operation targeted the so-called Knock Out Posse, who had terrorized project residents for well over a year with their crack dealing.

The raid was part of a national effort, launched by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, aimed at ending decades of neglect, and addressing the impact crack-dealing has on people who live in public housing.

Aside from complaints by a few residents that they were unnecessarily detained and frightened -- OK, a charging pit bull was shot and killed -- the raid was a success. Eleven alleged members of the Knock Out Posse are now facing the possibility of lengthy prison sentences, and some semblance of sanity has been restored to the projects.

Federal officials felt the raid showed they'd finally found the right crime-fighting model, and, more important, the right man to execute it at a local level. The raid seemed to mark the achievement of a long-standing goal.

And what was Tippy Mazzucco's reward?
He received an undignified demotion to a post in the District Attorney's Office generally reserved for people who are being invited to resign. After 11 years as a prosecutor, he was sent to handle routine preliminary hearings for criminal cases -- a job usually inflicted only on rookies straight out of law school. And if that weren't enough, he's facing a possible $10,000-a-year cut in salary.

Why, you ask?
Well, the best I can tell, Tippy Mazzucco has been stepped on because of a bad case of racial politics in the District Attorney's Office, amplified by two facts: 1) District Attorney Terry Hallinan has always been an erratic hothead. 2) Increasingly, Terry Hallinan is behaving like a complete fool.

Tippy Mazzucco may have led a successful raid against a vicious gang, but he also committed a horrible crime. At least, the crime has been portrayed as horrible inside Terry Hallinan's District Attorney's Office. The crime was this: Mazzucco did not notify the chief of the narcotics division of the District Attorney's Office, one Vernon Grigg, of the time and date of the Knock Out Posse raid.

Such a breach of protocol is not usually considered a great and horrible crime deserving of serious or long-lasting punishment. And in this case, when you break the situation down and get to the truth, there was no breach of protocol, and therefore no crime at all.

So far, though, the truth hasn't helped Mazzucco. But who knows? Maybe making the truth more widely known will.

So here's the truth, in four easy steps:
First: The Knock Out Posse operation was run out of the DA's gang unit. The narcotics detail was not in charge of the raid, so there was no special need for the head of narcotics to know of it.

Second: If a notification of the head of narcotics were required, it would not be Mazzucco's responsibility to make it.

Third: Mazzucco told all the appropriate superiors in the chain of command -- his boss in the gang unit, George Butterworth, and the district attorney's second-in-command, Richard Iglehart -- when the raid was going down.

And fourth and most interesting: Tippy Mazzucco told his superiors that he was not informing Grigg about the raid, and they all signed off on the notifications Mazzucco had made.

The raid went down. It was hailed as a success (except for the traditional whining of police brutality activists). And everything seemed fine. For a short time.

Vernon Grigg is a man of overweening ambition who also happens to have a profound lack of prosecutorial experience. Such ambitious, inexperienced men usually don't like it very much when they are cut out of the loop, regardless of the reason or justification. Grigg certainly didn't like being left out of the Knock Out Posse raid.

But to understand how much he didn't like it, you need to understand a bit more about Vernon Grigg. So let me tell you a little story.

About a year ago, I called Grigg and asked him if he would help me with a feature I wanted to do on one of Hallinan's pet projects, Mentor Court, a diversion program for low-level drug dealers. Grigg was overseeing the project.

He said he would be happy to meet with me about the program, but he had a suggestion for a better and more newsworthy story.

Oh, what could that be? I asked.
"Me," Grigg said.
You? I asked quizzically, not quite sure I had heard him right.

"Yeah, me," he reiterated with increased confidence. "Thirty-two years old. African-American. In charge of the narcotics division of a major city's District Attorney's Office. That's a great story, right?"

I was without words. I think I mumbled something about how I would like to wait a year or so to see how he performed, before writing a story about him. After I told him I wasn't interested in profiling him, he declined to cooperate on a Mentor Court story, apparently deciding that if it wasn't about him, it wasn't worth his time.

Vernon Grigg surely couldn't have anticipated, then, that just enough time would have passed for me to write about him, now.

A high-ranking SFPD source says Grigg was informed about every step in the yearlong investigation into drug dealing at the Marcus Garvey/MLK projects.

When it came down to the day of the raid, though, it was decided that Grigg would not be informed. It was an easy decision to make; there was no operational reason to tell him. He had no specific role to play in the raid. And the arguments in favor of not telling him were compelling, if not conclusive.

Grigg is a longtime acquaintance of Van Jones, the self-described "loudmouth" police brutality activist who often seems as interested in headlines as in making any headway against police abuse, and who has a propensity for getting his facts wrong. The two went to law school together at Yale.

Earlier this year, Jones produced a surprise witness to the fatal police shooting of a young woman named Sheila Detoy. The witness presented herself at a press conference, and later met with District Attorney Hallinan while he was inspecting the scene of the shooting with Grigg, a well-placed source tells me. Grigg facilitated the woman's testimony in the case against the police.

There was nothing untoward about Grigg's actions -- after all, the DA was investigating the police shooting. And the DA's Office subsequently decided not to seek charges in the matter. (SFPD internal affairs investigators are still looking at the case.) But because the woman was under investigation as part of a credit card fraud case at the time she offered her testimony against the officers involved in the Detoy shooting, and that case has yet to be charged by the DA, Grigg's involvement has become a point of contention and suspicion among many cops and prosecutors.

There's another reason Grigg was not informed of the date and time of the raid.

And this reason had nothing to do with distrust, or whether it was rightly or wrongly conceived. It had to do with very real security concerns.

Grigg, as I said, runs the District Attorney's Mentor Court program. One of his deputies on that project is a young man named Ranon Ross. Ross used to live in the Marcus Garvey/MLK projects, and some of his relatives still live there. Those running the Knock Out Posse operation did not want there to be any risk whatsoever that anyone in the projects would learn of the raid, accidentally or otherwise.

The proper execution of the raid did not require Grigg's inclusion in it. Good law enforcement agencies always exercise an overabundance of caution in regard to sensitive operations. During those operations, it's also standard law enforcement procedure to share information only with those who need to know it.

So Vernon Grigg was not told about the Knock Out Posse raid ahead of time for many reasons, some more legitimate than others. If Grigg's feelings were hurt because he'd been cut out of the loop, he could have gone to Mazzucco and his superiors and told them so. Things might have been handled in an honorable fashion, man to man. But there's not much that's very admirable about what happened to Tippy Mazzucco.

Vernon Grigg happens to be African-American. He is one of Terry Hallinan's chosen, affirmative-action hires.

After his out-of-the-loop status in the project raid became known to other black prosecutors, they called a meeting with Hallinan, a man who has always seemed willing to accept the politics of perceived racism unquestioningly.

The African-American prosecutorial committee -- which, law enforcement sources say, included one of Mayor Willie Brown's ex-girlfriends, Kamala Harris, and the head of the DA's homicide division, Murlene Randall -- laid it out simply for Hallinan: Mazzucco was a racist because his decision to cut Grigg out of the raid showed how the old guard was refusing to work with the new-guard minorities brought in and advanced by Hallinan.

While Harris and Randall were making these arguments to their boss, Grigg was running around asserting that the federally funded post Mazzucco occupied, called the housing deputy, should be transferred to the narcotics division, where Grigg would control it, several law enforcement sources say.

And at the same time, Grigg was hitting up Mayor Brown to be appointed to the Housing Commission, the public body that oversees the management and funding of public housing projects, including the Marcus Garvey/MLK development.

It doesn't take an idiot to see empire-building when it's happening right under your nose. But Hallinan, a radical turned liberal, ate up the racism argument and never bothered to put the other pieces of the puzzle together.

Word went out: Hallinan thought Mazzucco had acted on racist impulse, and he was being banished to the Siberia of the preliminary hearings unit, where he could contemplate his racist ways.

It didn't seem to matter to Hallinan that his top assistant, Dick Iglehart, knew Grigg hadn't been told of the raid. It didn't matter that the head of the gang unit, George Butterworth, also knew Grigg was out of the loop. It didn't matter that Mazzucco was just doing his job.

When false claims of racism stir the mud in an already muddy mind, the Tippy Mazzuccos of the world often get hurt.

And just so you don't accord credence to the claims that Mazzucco is racist, know this: Three top-ranking police officials who were involved in the raid and who have worked closely with Mazzucco for years -- Lt. Kitt Crenshaw, the head of SFPD narcotics; Deputy Chief Rich Holder, the head of special operations; and Earl Saunders, the assistant chief of police -- all called Hallinan to argue on Tippy's behalf.

All three of these men also happen to be African-American.

Shortly after Mazzucco was demoted, Mayor Brown appointed Vernon Grigg a housing commissioner.

And this is the way politics works in the time of Willie Brown and Terence Hallinan. If you are ambitious and willing to feed your ambitions into politically correct channels, you win.

If you keep your head down, do the right thing, and try to clean some of the drugs and violence and chaos out of the lives of the honest folks who live in the projects, you get royally and unceremoniously screwed.

What I've just told you is not the worst of this tale. The unjust screwing of one prosecutor is bad. But the people in the projects -- a constituency Hallinan has long said he represents -- may also get a good screwing as a result of our district attorney's PC foolishness.

Dan Pifer, the head of the criminal unit of the Inspector General's Office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he's so thoroughly pissed at Hallinan for demoting Mazzucco that he is seriously considering pulling federal funding from the housing deputy post that Mazzucco had filled.

"Mazzucco has done an outstanding job working with us," he says. "The operations he has worked on with us have all been extremely successful because of his dedication, his direction, and his outstanding prosecutorial experience."

Apparently, that doesn't matter to our district attorney.
As one high-ranking SFPD official said, "Tippy's main problem is that he is an aggressive prosecutor. He's a cop's prosecutor and a prosecutor's prosecutor. And he's in the middle of a liberal law enforcement fishbowl. It's not a problem with Tippy, it's a problem with politics and political agendas run amok."

George Cothran (gcothran@sfweekly.com) can be reached at SF Weekly, 185 Berry, Suite 3800, San Francisco,

Show Pages
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...