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?

Landi says he was caught in an unwinnable situation. The department suspended him, the DA was preparing to indict him, and yet internal investigators were demanding that he agree to be interrogated, immediately, about his contacts with Paige. All he did, Landi says, was ask to have an attorney present during the interview. "I'm shellshocked during this process," he says. "Let's face it, I'm surfing beneath the surfboard. Looking back, they were basically trying to coerce a statement out of me that they could use against me at trial."

Once the indictments came down, Landi's fight with the police administration slipped into the background. He was placed on unpaid leave of absence -- which wasn't much different than the suspension he had already been handed -- until the trial concluded. But the end of the criminal proceedings did not let Landi off the hook with the department.

Technically, as far as the department was concerned, Landi was still guilty of insubordination for his failure to show up for the two interviews as ordered. Formal charges were filed against Landi with the Police Commission, left there to dangle over his head as he tried to salvage his career from the wreckage of the criminal charges.

After the trial, Landi was also put back to work in the records room. But unlike Fagundes and Acevedo, Landi was obviously outspoken about his treatment. He wanted to be back on the streets. He wanted his back pay. And he wanted some accounting for why he was even indicted in the first place.

When none of those things proved forthcoming, Landi began fighting back. He sued the city for malicious prosecution and false arrest. He sued again for his back pay, and agitated to be returned to real police work. He kept asking that the insubordination charges against him be resolved, but the commission did not act and the accusations were left unsettled.

Finally, in June 1998, Landi went on medical leave, suffering from peptic ulcers. He has not drawn a paycheck since, and the city has denied his claims for disability pay.

After Landi had shown he would not fade quietly into the woodwork, the Police Commission decided it was time to resurrect the insubordination charges against him.

In March 1999, Landi's insubordination charges were finally taken up by the Police Commission. Never mind that Landi was already on unpaid medical leave, that it had been more than three years since he was indicted, and almost two since his criminal trial. "After the trial, there was extensive review and decisions to be made," explains commission attorney Jerry Akins. "The simple fact of an acquittal doesn't end the administrative process, necessarily."

In June 1999, the commission meted out its punishment, It sustained two charges of insubordination against Landi, and ordered him terminated. But the firing was held in abeyance for five years, meaning Landi would be allowed to stay on the force on a sort of probationary status. He was also suspended for 180 days, an act with little meaning since he was already on unpaid medical leave.

Landi promptly filed a suit in state court challenging the commission's decision. On Nov. 30, 1999, state Superior Court Judge David Garcia overturned the commission's decision, saying that it could not punish Landi for attempting to assert his right to an attorney. The city is now appealing Garcia's decision.

Garcia's ruling, if it holds up on appeal, could help Landi with other legal irons he has in the fire. Although the federal lawsuit Landi filed against the city, the Police Department, and Gudelj for false arrest and malicious prosecution was dismissed because it was filed too late, another suit is pending in state court over the back pay Landi feels he is owed. A judge recently rejected the city's request that the case be thrown out of court, and Landi is looking forward to a trial. Landi is also appealing the denial of his medical disability claims.

Two weeks ago Steve Landi stood in a third-floor hallway of the courthouse, barely able to contain his glee. A state district judge had just ruled that his lawsuit seeking back pay from the city could go forward.

This is what Landi has been working toward almost every day since he left the job. Just as an aging prizefighter spends hours replaying in his mind the fight that cost him his title, Landi has spent the past few years dissecting and analyzing what happened to his career. His time has been spent meeting with lawyers, reading transcripts, ferreting out every piece of information that might impact the litigation. He has investigated his own case longer and more thoroughly than any of those he handled while a policeman.

By fall, he hopes, he'll get to go before a jury again. But this time Landi will be making the accusations. He will try to show that his indictment was the product of politics and shoddy investigation. He will argue that, even after the criminal trial that essentially exonerated him of wrongdoing, the Police Department continued to unfairly persecute him. He promises to rip back the veneer and show how department officials conspired to end his career.

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