By Erin Sherbert
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Albert Samaha
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
Steve Landi was a good policeman. Not merely honest, polite to the citizenry, or judicious with the powers attendant to his badge, but good in a larger sense. He believed as a matter of bedrock faith that police work was a calling, that he was privileged to be a member of the San Francisco force, and that doing his job well meant giving something back to a city he holds in high regard.
The uncomplicated sincerity of Landi's allegiance to law, order, and San Francisco can be hard to discern at first. It is hidden behind the weathered bravado of a blunt, muscle-bound Italian with medallions dangling from his neck, a 44-year-old man who spent one-quarter of his life rooting out drug dealers, car thieves, wife-beaters, and myriad other "bad guys" from the city's nooks and crannies, at every hour of the day and night.
Over time, some of his fellow officers caught glimpses of it, this distinction between an hourly hired hand and Landi, the true believer. Many of his superiors learned of it too, and would enlist Landi's services when faced with a troublesome assignment. Certainly, Sgt. Patrick Tobin saw it when he climbed up a stairwell with Landi at 101 California St. almost seven years ago to confront a mass murderer. "He was a policeman's policeman," says Tobin.
Yet for nearly five years now, the system to which Landi pledged his devotion has been trying to rid itself of him. The City and County of San Francisco apparently does not want Steve Landi as a cop anymore. The San Francisco Police Department has used some of the most potent weapons in its bureaucratic arsenal to either drive him from the force, or bury him away in an obscure administrative niche where he will be seldom seen or heard.
It has been two years since Landi has reported for work or drawn a paycheck, and longer still since he made an arrest, or patrolled a city street.
To the city, Landi is an unappetizing leftover of the crow that the Police Department and District Attorney's Office reluctantly ate after blowing a much-heralded police corruption probe.
In 1995, Landi was one of three officers indicted by a grand jury in what the daily newspapers came to call "the biggest corruption scandal to hit the department in years." The scandalous behavior, supposedly, consisted of officers stealing money and other valuables -- including fountain pens and baseball cards -- from drug suspects whom they had arrested. Landi was accused of being a bit player in the alleged scheme. He was swept up in the investigation not because he was caught stealing anything himself, but because he would not cough up the evidence that investigators sought to implicate his colleagues.
There was, it turned out, no evidence for Landi to turn over, because there was no corruption to be found.
When the smoke cleared at trial almost two years later, what emerged was a portrait of a horribly ill-conceived investigation, cooked up in the heat of an election year, that resulted in criminal charges against three cops based on the scantest evidence and most dubious of accusers. So weak was the district attorney's case that Landi and two other officers were convicted of nothing after a three-month trial. "There was absolutely zero evidence," recalls Michael Mitchell, a juror in the case.
After the trial, the Police Department seemed to think that Landi should return quietly to work, allow himself to be shunted off to police purgatory in the file room, and forget about the damage to his name, the pay he had lost while the case was pending, and the stain on his once-sterling record.
But meek acceptance is not Landi's way. It does not comport with the gut-held definition of fairness that he carried with him on the streets. As surely as guilt should lead to punishment, innocence should lead to vindication, he believes.
"It's just who I am," he says. "If I'm wrong, I'm gonna put my head down, and give me a smack. But if I'm right, by God, watch out. I'm not swallowing the pill."
Steve Landi will almost certainly never work as a San Francisco cop again. He has accepted that. For now, unemployed and living on the good graces of his girlfriend, he spends most of his time fighting the city, hoping to retrieve some vestige of his life's work.
He has filed lawsuits asking for the back pay and disability benefits he believes the city owes him, and a recent court victory has buoyed his spirits on that front. But the one measure of justice he really wants is the one he is least likely to get -- an admission from the city and the Police Department that they screwed him over, then hung him out to dry.
Landi is not the only one who believes an apology is in order.
"What happened to Steve Landi was unconscionable," says Lt. Bruce Marovich, who worked often with Landi on the force and still holds him in high esteem. "In my 33 years I have never seen a cop get screwed like this. I would bet my life on Steve Landi."
That's the kind of praise a young cop dreams of when setting forth on a career in law enforcement. It appears to be deserved, in part because Steve Landi bet his life on being a good cop.
The Bay Area has been Landi's only home. It's where his father's parents came after immigrating from Italy, and where he was raised, spending parts of his childhood growing up in North Beach, Daly City, and the Inner Sunset. It was his dad's folks, he says, who formed him most. "I learned pretty solid values from those people," he says.
Landi attended, but did not earn a degree from, the University of San Francisco after graduating from Oceana High School in Pacifica. He married, had a son, and set out to be a police officer because he could see purpose in the work. He started on the job in Daly City in 1982, when he was in his mid-20s. Landi would later tell colleagues that, as part of a lie detector test administered by the Daly City force, he was asked if he had ever stolen anything in his life, even something as inconsequential as a candy bar when he was a child. Landi answered no. And he passed.
Daly City lasted just two years, then Landi caught the brass ring and was accepted onto the San Francisco force. First it was the midnight shift out of the Mission Station, working in uniform during the dark hours when anything could go wrong. "It was a hard-charging place. I was busy all the time. I loved it," Landi recalls.
From rookie beginnings, Landi commenced a quick and steady march up the police career ladder -- working plainclothes on carjackings, going undercover on narcotics stings, hunting for crack dealers in the housing projects. He became best known for his drug work, and developed a specialty in spotting, tracking, and bringing in methamphetamine dealers.
"He was right up there at the top," Marovich, one of Landi's superior officers, would later testify at a Police Commission hearing. "He would handle all of my difficult problems ... and he and his partner handled all our speeder problems for us."
Taken together, Landi's sharp eyes, mustache, and short curly hair give him an intimidating air. His neck and arms are massive for his average-size frame, a testament to the hours he spends training as a weightlifter. His name would frequently be mentioned in discussions of who was the strongest officer on the force.
Landi was often handpicked for special units sent in to clean up specific neighborhoods with intractable drug or violence problems, and he racked up his share of the individual and unit commendations that police departments are prone to hand out. But the SFPD gives its Medal of Valor to only a few officers in any given year, and only for "outstanding bravery above and beyond the call of duty." Bravery of the type Landi displayed on July 1, 1993, in a stairwell of the office tower at 101 California St.
Landi had just finished working out at the Central Station gym and wasn't yet on duty when Sgt. Patrick Tobin approached him with news of bedlam at 101 California. A gunman had opened fire in the law offices of Petit & Martin, and an unknown number of people had been killed or wounded.
Landi was a specialist on the sniper team, trained for just such work.
After grabbing a shotgun, Landi and Tobin sped to the office tower and plunged into the horror and fear that had beset the scene. No one was sure where the gunman was, or if he was acting alone.
Landi and Tobin took an elevator partway up the building, then began ascending a stairwell. Gian Luigi Ferri, the killer, was apparently working his way down the same staircase after shooting eight people to death on three floors of the building.
"I don't think we made a couple of flights before I heard some muffled voices and some gunfire," Landi recalls. "Pat says, 'That's the SWAT guys,' and starts going past me. I grab him by the shirt and pull him back and say, 'No, that's the bad guy.'
"I look up the stairwell, I see a guy with glasses looking down. He looks away, and there's a bang."
After spotting Landi, Ferri had killed himself. But Landi and Tobin did not know that at the moment. "I called for a SWAT team. Nobody's coming. Nobody's coming. Nobody's coming. Basically I say, 'Fuck this. We gotta clear this. We gotta get up there.'
"I get up to the next floor, there's blood all over the wall. I get to the next floor, the whole platform is a lake of blood. I get to the next floor, and I see the two feet. I get up to the body, and it's the suspect. He's got a .45 laying on his chest, and the back of his head is shot all over the wall."
That trip up the stairwell, which seemed to take hours, earned Landi his medal. But the journey from hero to goat -- at least in the Police Department's eyes -- would be a short one.
The first whiff of the Police Department scandal that eventually engulfed Steve Landi reached the public in September 1995, in the form of newspaper reports that a grand jury was looking into possible corruption among a special team from Central Station assigned to crack down on drug trafficking in North Beach. Not surprisingly, Steve Landi was part of that team, but the main target of the probe was Officer Gary Fagundes, a decorated 14-year veteran and sometime partner of Landi's. (Fagundes, since cleared and back on the job, did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story.)
The investigation had actually been under way for more than a year, widely known -- or rumored -- throughout the department long before tidbits of it began trickling out in the press. It supposedly sprung from complaints, made by drug dealers and others who had been arrested, that officers -- specifically Fagundes -- were pocketing cash and valuables taken from suspects.
News of the probe surfaced as then-District Attorney Arlo Smith faced a tight -- and ultimately unsuccessful -- re-election race. Challenger Terence Hallinan began making campaign promises about getting tough on rogue cops. It was no time for the DA, or Police Department, to appear soft on corruption.
But there was a problem. When Smith and then-Police Chief Tony Ribera made their promises to crack down on bad cops, police investigators had already been on the case for more than a year and were hard-pressed to turn up any credible evidence of corruption.
Internal investigators had gone so far as to set up sting operations on the suspect cops. Hidden cameras rolled as the officers were sent to arrest supposed drug dealers -- actually police plants, with wads of cash ripe for the taking. But each time, Fagundes, Landi, or the other targeted officers didn't steal the money. Instead, they handled the arrests by the book, and in one bizarre incident even wound up bursting in on the cops who were watching them.
In the first sting, an undercover Marin County deputy sheriff -- a tall, slender, bearded fellow -- was planted on a North Beach street corner, holding a pouch full of drugs and money given him by SFPD investigators. The deputy was supposed to make like a drug dealer, while a video camera peered down on the scene from a hotel room across the street.
Landi and Fagundes were dispatched to check out the man. Upon discovering the money and drugs, the officers called for a supervising sergeant, arrested the suspect, inventoried the money, and stole nothing. The videotape caught them doing their jobs just as they were supposed to. (Ironically, at around the same time as the sting attempt, Landi got his name in the newspapers again, this time for busting a major North Beach drug dealer who was nabbed with $17,600 in cash and 32 ounces of cocaine. All the money made its way to the evidence room.)
After a while, the two investigators first assigned to the corruption case decided there was nothing to it, and suggested that the probe be dropped. Instead, it was taken over by Sgt. Inspector Stephen Gudelj, a 27-year SFPD veteran, head of the Special Investigations Division, and a powerful force within the department.
When Gudelj took charge of the investigation in May 1994, he later testified before the grand jury, he believed that Fagundes and Landi didn't steal cash from the undercover deputy because the officers were somehow aware that they were being watched. So Gudelj decided to keep trying. Another videotaped sting was set up, this time with a police informant, drugs, and money planted in an apartment. Sent to the scene to execute a search warrant, Landi and another officer searched one room of the apartment, found the drugs and cash, and turned it in. Fagundes and Officer James Acevedo searched a second room, found nothing, and therefore had nothing to turn over. Again, none of the officers stole anything.
In September 1994 Gudelj tried again, and again the cops -- this time Acevedo and Fagundes -- failed to steal any money from a drug dealer planted in another apartment.
"Now we have three cases where you set them up and nothing has happened, right?" Gudelj was later asked before the grand jury.
"That's correct," Gudelj answered.
So Gudelj's team tried yet again. The fourth sting involved drugs, money, and another police informant planted in a hotel room. Landi was not even involved in the fourth operation, when Fagundes and Acevedo were sent to search the hotel rooms. The two officers did find money and drugs, and were in the process of collecting the evidence when the bust turned into a bad parody of a police sitcom.
The hotel manager, eager to be helpful, alerted Fagundes and Acevedo that there were more suspicious characters in the room right next door. When Fagundes and Acevedo checked out the manager's tip, they stumbled upon the cops running the videotape equipment.
At that point, Gudelj later told the grand jury, he and the police chief discussed the case, and decided to suspend the investigation. If Fagundes, or any other cops, had been stealing money, Gudelj and Ribera reasoned, they certainly weren't stupid enough to continue after finding a roomful of surveillance equipment aimed at them.
But in June 1995 the investigation was resuscitated, for reasons that grand jury transcripts and other court documents do not make clear. Gudelj testified merely that he was asked to reopen the probe because "rumors" continued to surface about cops stealing from drug dealers.
This time, Gudelj's team took a different tack. Eight investigators were assigned to interview drug dealers and users, asking them if any cops had ever stolen from them. Among the 50 or so "civilians" the investigators talked to, Gudelj later told the grand jury, some number alleged that, yes indeed, the officers who arrested them had stolen some of their stuff.
The accusers had many things in common. Most had criminal records. All were caught with drugs -- usually speed. All claimed that money or dear personal possessions -- including a fake Rolex watch, expensive jewelry, irreplaceable antique fountain pens, designer perfume, and some pricey Limoges porcelain boxes -- mysteriously disappeared from their pockets, closets, or apartments at the time of their arrests, and must surely have been stolen by the police.
Most significantly, all of the accusers were promised that the drug charges against them would disappear, if they testified against the cops before a grand jury.
On Sept. 28, 1995, Fagundes was indicted on 17 counts, including grand theft, attempted grand theft, and perjury. Acevedo was indicted on four grand theft counts. Landi was indicted on two counts of grand theft and one count of trying to solicit perjury from a fellow police officer. The perjury charge against Landi was tacked on in the closing moments of the investigation, and would haunt him the longest.
Smith, who would soon lose the DA's Office to Hallinan, hailed the indictments, saying they showed "no one is above the law, including police officers."
Ribera, soon to leave as chief of police, told reporters the case made him "feel ill," and that the indictments would show other police that the SFPD "will not tolerate criminal activity by its members."
Integrity, the citizenry was told, would be restored to the SFPD.
The three indicted officers were placed on unpaid leave for more than a year as they awaited trial. Their rank-and-file brethren were unsure how to react. Support and condemnation came from different quarters within the department.
The task of nailing the hides to the wall fell to Assistant District Attorney Donald A. Sanchez, the same attorney who had shepherded Stephen Gudelj's investigation before the grand jury and won indictments. (Sanchez, who has since left the District Attorney's Office and moved to Arizona, could not be reached for comment for this story.)
But headlines and bootlicking coverage in the city's daily newspapers do not a criminal case make. When the trial finally opened on Jan. 29, 1997, Sanchez told jurors that "this is a case about theft, perjury, the arrogance of power, and corruption. The evidence will show that these officers have corrupted the system."
The evidence showed no such thing, the jurors decided. In fact, at trial's end, there was precious little credible evidence to be considered at all.
"I thought it was horrendous. I couldn't believe that any of the three was on trial, especially Landi and Acevedo," says Michael Mitchell, one of the jurors in the case. When the jury retired after hearing evidence for about three months, Mitchell says, "nine out of 12 of us were basically ready to acquit the first day, at least on the majority of the charges. And Landi on all of them."
The biggest problem, of course, was that the bulk of the case rested on a parade of drug dealers and users -- the "citizens" rounded up by Gudelj's investigators -- who had all been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.
Mitchell, now 49 and himself an investigator for the state Department of Insurance, says he wasn't going to automatically take the word of a cop over a drug dealer, though "a dope dealer is a known criminal, and they do have to overcome that to some extent."
But what amazed the jury, Mitchell says, was the utter lack of corroborating evidence to support the charges. If these cops were walking away with thousands of dollars in cash, why wasn't it showing up on their bank statements, or somewhere in their personal financial records? If, as the accusers testified, the cops were stealing watches, precious jewelry, and fine antiques, what had happened to the stolen goods? Where were the stolen items, or the pawnshop receipts showing they had been hocked?
"Somewhere that's going to show up," Mitchell says. "But they didn't even present one bank statement. They didn't have one single hock-shop receipt." One prosecution witness, Mitchell says, testified that $2,000 in cash and 60 pieces of gold jewelry were taken from him. "And they don't have a single receipt from a pawnshop or jewelry place?" he says. "What did they do with the 60 pieces of jewelry if it was stolen? If it existed."
Boiled down, Mitchell says, "all they had at the end of two months was nine dope dealers who received a total walk for a year and a half while the investigation was going on. Every time [the dealers] were arrested, they got a walk from Gudelj."
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.'
"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."
In hindsight, Paige says he is unable to remember many of the details of the charges he made against Landi, and some of the things he does claim to remember do not jibe with his grand jury testimony. Before the grand jury, for instance, Paige seemed to imply that Landi and other officers lied in a police report about who retrieved specific items during a drug arrest. But in an interview, Paige says he took issue with the report because "the whole thing that led up to the probable cause was not what happened."
But as a backup officer, Paige was not involved in determining probable cause for the arrest. He was merely called in to show the uniform and assist in detaining the suspect. Paige could cite no other discrepancies that he remembered about the report, or explain exactly what it was Landi supposedly told him to lie about. Paige also says that, during the arrest, he did not see Landi or Fagundes steal any money or property. "[Gudelj] asked me if money was taken, and I didn't see any money taken," Paige says.
But Paige remains adamant that -- during the traffic stop meeting -- Landi and Tobin tried to intimidate him, and he even recalls a remarkable detail. When Tobin's car stopped, Paige now says, "Landi had his hands between his legs, out of view. What was in them, I couldn't tell you, because I didn't see."
If Landi was in fact hiding a weapon, as Paige says he inferred, that would seem to be an important fact that Paige would have mentioned to the grand jury. But it was not in his testimony. Under oath, Paige had told the grand jury, "[Landi] didn't say anything that was hostile or angry toward me, but just the fact of his mere presence ... after what I had known, was totally out of character."
If Landi disputes Paige's charges, Paige says, then so be it. "As for me being a liar, if I was a liar, I would have gone in the grand jury and lied for him, so therefore I am not a liar."
At the criminal trial, however, the jurors did not believe Paige.
"One of the things I walked away from that trial with is, 'Oh my God, the city of San Francisco has this guy [Paige] walking around with a gun," says juror Michael Mitchell, who found Paige frightening. "I mean, this guy was scary. He was scary looking, and when he started talking he was even scarier."
And the accusations Paige made seemed petty in contrast to the other charges in the case, Mitchell says. "Landi told him to stick to the report, and it was proven throughout the trial that the report was accurate," says Mitchell. "It was terribly stupid and insignificant."
Insignificant for the criminal trial, perhaps, but not for Landi's future.
Even before the grand jury had finished its work, Steve Landi was told to come to police headquarters to be interviewed about his supposed bullying and intimidation of Officer John Paige.
Landi, aware that he was already a target of the grand jury probe, wanted an attorney to attend the interview with him. But on the morning of the day he was to submit to questioning, Landi was told by the Police Officer's Association that Earl Disselhorst would no longer be his lawyer. (The reasons for the change are unclear. Landi says he was told Disselhorst had a conflict of interest and could not continue to represent him. Disselhorst says that's not true, and that he was never given a full explanation as to why the POA would no longer pay him to represent Landi.)
A scramble to find a new lawyer ensued, and the POA finally arranged for attorney Mark Nicco to take over Landi's case. Nicco, who would stay with Landi from then on and represent him at the criminal trial, says he learned of the scheduled interview with Landi just minutes before it was set to start.
"It's Friday afternoon. It's a big case, with a lot of discovery and quite a history," Nicco recalls. "I haven't even met Steve Landi yet."
Nicco asked if the interview could be postponed until Monday so he could have a chance to meet with his brand-new client and bone up on what was taking place. "They said, 'Well, if he's not here by 5 o'clock with or without counsel, he'll be suspended,'" Nicco says. "I told them, 'Well, given the choice of appearing with counsel or without counsel, we'll have to choose with counsel, and I can't be there.'
"At 5 o'clock, I received a fax saying he was suspended."
Before the indictments had even come down, Landi was off the job. When police investigators again demanded that Landi show up for an interview the following Tuesday, Nicco told his client not to go. "My position at that time was, 'If you've done your investigation and you've already suspended him based on your investigation, what do you need to talk with him for on Tuesday?'" Nicco says. "'You wouldn't give me the courtesy of two days to prepare. What information do you now need to change your mind?'"
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.
"There's a lot of cops that could be embarrassed in a trial," Landi says. "This civil case is going to have a lot of ramifications for other people's jobs. Those that toed the party line and got cute with the truth are going to be brought out, because I have to do that. That's part of where my mind is. I wish I didn't have to do that, but I don't see any option."
Landi has fared well in courts of law, he points out. The criminal trial went his way, Judge Garcia overturned the Police Commission's punishment, and his state civil suit is headed for court.
"I think we still live in the U.S.," Landi says. "I'm not sure. The right to remedy an issue in a court of law, isn't that what we're supposed to do as citizens? Seems to me that the Police Department takes exception to that."
Slowly, bit by bit, he believes he is regaining some part of what was taken from him.
"Yeah, my career was ruined. My life has been turned into shit," he says. "I've answered to people from childhood. You know, I've been a native of the city all my life, of the area. People called up when they saw the headlines that I knew from grammar school asking, you know, 'What happened?'"
Landi is still trying to show them what happened. Show that it wasn't his fault. Show that he never stole a thing, never lied, never did anything more than insist on being treated fairly.
Show that he was not, ever, a bad cop.
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