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?

"At that point," Landi says, "I was told, 'You are now a target.'"

Threats and bullying were not unusual tactics for Gudelj's investigation, according to some who followed its progress. During the course of the probe, Disselhorst complained at the time, Gudelj had some officers pulled over while they were driving home from work, and hauled in for interviews. "He's waited outside an officer's home at two in the morning ... and demanded that he come downtown and be interviewed," Disselhorst complained to reporters at the time.

After being told he was a target of the investigation, Landi knew Gudelj was looking for something to hang over his head. As the grand jury was beginning to hear evidence in the case, an officer named John Paige unexpectedly handed Gudelj a hammer.

Paige had worked often with Landi, Fagundes, and most of the other cops on the special North Beach narcotics team. Because Paige had played a minor role in one of the busts being presented to the grand jury -- backing up on the arrest of a habitual dealer who claimed money was taken from him during an arrest -- he was called to testify before the grand jury.

The fallout from two accidental meetings between Paige and Landi around the time of Paige's testimony would come back to haunt Landi for a very long time. The two officers first ran into each other at the Hall of Justice when Paige showed up for his grand jury appearance.

"I said, 'Hello John, what's up?' Just a general greeting," Landi recalls. "And he goes off on, you know, 'I gotta fucking testify at that grand jury, and that police report, I told you, was all fucked up.'"

Paige, Landi says, insisted during the ensuing conversation that the formal police report written up on the arrest contained some mistakes. Landi said it didn't, and freely admits that he told Paige not to contradict the report, because the report was accurate. "I essentially told John there was nothing wrong with that report. 'Don't lie for those guys,' referring to Gudelj and his unit," Landi says. "'If you go against the report,' which I told him not to do, 'it's at your own peril.'"

Before the grand jury, Paige did indicate that he had questions about discrepancies in the report, though his exact disagreements with it are hard to discern from his testimony. After testifying, Paige went back out on patrol, and had pulled over a motorist with an expired license plate at Eddy and Van Ness streets, when the second chance meeting with Landi occurred.

Landi and Sgt. Patrick Tobin were in Tobin's police car, driving to an auto parts store, when they passed by Paige's traffic stop. All cops know, in their bones, that pulling over drivers can produce the most benign, or most dangerous, moments in their day. Footage of officers being surprised, and beaten or shot, during seemingly "routine" traffic stops are is a staple of those real-life police television shows.

So, as is professional custom, Tobin stopped his car to see which officer was working the stop, and make sure everything was all right. "We stopped for a grand total of 10 seconds," Tobin recalls. Landi also remembers the stop as being brief and uneventful. Hellos were exchanged, the two men say, and that was about it.

Paige, however, saw it differently. He immediately went to his superiors, and reported his two contacts with Landi. Paige was told to relate the information to Gudelj. And within a matter of days, Paige was back before the grand jury to testify about his two contacts with Landi. Paige told the grand jurors that, during his first meeting with Landi, he believed Landi was trying to induce him to commit perjury. The encounter at the traffic stop, Paige testified, appeared to be a calculated attempt to scare him.

"I felt this was a very subtle form of intimidation," Paige told the grand jury during his second appearance. "Many years ago, it would have been the fact that somebody would approach me and say, 'If you talk, we're going to kill you.' Nowadays, they show up out of the clear blue sky, out of place, out of sequence, and say, 'How's everything going?'"

It was Paige's testimony that produced the most curious indictment in the case against Landi, the one charge of soliciting perjury, and Paige repeated his assertions at the criminal trial.

After his testimony, Paige enjoyed brief celebrity. He was written up in the papers for being a rare cop willing to break the so-called code of silence that says policemen never turn on one another.

Looking back, Paige seems to have held more dearly to his five minutes of fame than the threats and intimidation that supposedly led up to them. In conversation, he seems easily confused, often pausing for long stretches to pick words. A beefy cop with dark hair slicked back over his head, Paige does not seem to register that his claims effectively spelled the end of a fellow officer's career. "The whole thing's been long gone for everybody," says the 18-year veteran, leaning against his squad car on the side of Ortega Street. "Why is he still worried about this one thing? I find it strange that it's so small on the whole that it's almost laughable."

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