Officer Down

Steve Landi was a hero at 101 California and a cop to his bones. Why is the SFPD trying so hard to get rid of him?

And when it came time to unwind the official narrative of the investigation, Gudelj himself seemed more a man on a crusade than an objective witness, Mitchell says. The case's lead investigator seemed so intent on nailing Fagundes, Mitchell says, that "I immediately was concerned with his testimony. He had everything in the world that said he was highly qualified. He had this tremendous résumé. But the thing I noticed right away was that he was so anxious to tell everyone that Fagundes was guilty that he was answering questions way ahead of the DA and way ahead of the defense attorneys. He was trying to insert his opinions, not be a professional witness."

It seemed evident, Mitchell says, that Landi and Acevedo were bit players whom Gudelj saw as barriers in his pursuit of Fagundes. Because neither officer would provide incriminating evidence against Fagundes -- whether they had such evidence or not -- they were indicted along with him. "All of the people who came in, cops and crooks, testified that [Acevedo] was the most honest cop they ever met," Mitchell says. "And yet Acevedo and Landi were sitting next to Fagundes at the defense table. They brought in two cops whose only crime was that they wouldn't roll over on the other guy.

"It became very clear that there was some kind of other agenda going on here. They had this investigation, they came up with zero evidence, but two of the cops who work with Fagundes refused to turn on him ... they were sitting there because they wouldn't roll over on the guy, and given the evidence, there wasn't anything to roll over on."

SF Weekly's attempts to contact other jurors were unsuccessful, but their response to the prosecution's case, such as it was, is obvious from the results of the trial. The jury easily decided not to convict any of the three men. When the verdicts were finally returned in May 1997, Acevedo was acquitted on all counts; the jury hung 11-1 on one of the theft counts against Landi. The panel also could not reach unanimous verdicts on three of the counts against Fagundes, though its majority sentiments were expressed by a juror who went up and hugged Fagundes when the case was over.

The next month, Hallinan's office announced that it would not retry Landi and Fagundes on the unresolved charges.

Gudelj's explosive corruption probe proved a wet firecracker, and it wasn't just the jury that was unimpressed. Within the department, some fellow officers and superiors were appalled at how Landi, Acevedo, and Fagundes had been treated. "The best thing you can say about [Gudelj] is that he's the worst investigator in the world," says Marovich, who had supervised all three of the accused officers. "It just was a bad, bad investigation."

Gudelj has since left the department and opened a private investigation firm in San Francisco, SJG and Associates Inc. When contacted, he declined to comment on any aspect of the investigation or its aftermath. "I just flat don't comment on cases," Gudelj said. "It's always been my policy and I don't intend to change it now."

With the criminal case concluded, it was left to the SFPD to decide what to do with the three cops. Fagundes and Acevedo were put to work in the records room, and eased back onto the force. Each received back pay for some of the time lost while awaiting trial.

But Landi would prove a different story.

The only way to make this already long story shorter is to say this: Steve Landi is no longer a San Francisco police officer almost entirely because he wanted to exercise his constitutional rights, the same ones afforded every doper, drive-by shooter, child molester, and lowlife skank he arrested over the years. Specifically, Landi insisted on the right to have an attorney represent him after he was accused of breaking the law. That insistence spawned a complex chain of events, and ultimately drove him from the force.

Long before word of Sgt. Stephen Gudelj's ill-fated corruption probe was leaked to the press, Landi and other officers knew that internal investigators were trying to build a case against Officer Gary Fagundes. Landi himself had been called in for interviews by Gudelj, and the sergeant seemed to become upset when Landi said he had no information to offer about Fagundes, Landi says. Landi was summoned for a final interview with Gudelj and Assistant DA Donald Sanchez as the corruption case was heading for the grand jury.

The meeting proved quick, and ominous. Already leery of Gudelj's investigation, Landi brought a lawyer with him to the interview, one who had been appointed by the Police Officer's Association to help Landi protect his interests. "When we interviewed with Sanchez, [Landi] was told he was not a target," says the attorney, Earl Disselhorst. "We said, 'Fine. If he's not a target, there shouldn't be any problem granting him immunity.'"

Landi says he wanted assurances that he wasn't a target of the probe before proceeding with the conversation. Sanchez and Gudelj left the room to talk things over. "They came back in," Landi recalls. "Mr. Sanchez sits down and says, 'Well, if Officer Landi chooses not to cooperate with the grand jury, he now becomes a target.' Mr. Disselhorst says, 'Don, if he didn't do anything wrong before he came in here, how did that just change?' [Sanchez said,] 'Well, interviews are changing rapidly.'

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