By Chris Roberts
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
By Mike Billings
By Rachel Swan
By Erin Sherbert
By Joe Eskenazi
By Albert Samaha
The commission's use of taxpayer money as a substitute for police responsibility is a familiar scenario. The panel did so in 2000 in the case of 17-year-old Sheila Detoy. She was shot and killed by police in 1998 while a passenger in a car leaving the Oakwood Apartments in Bayview-Hunters Point. The police had staked out the apartment complex hoping to arrest one of two men in the car with Detoy who was wanted on drug charges. When the suspect prepared to leave the complex, police blocked one end of a horseshoe driveway with a van. Officers said that the driver, Michael Negron, 22, who was not the target of the stakeout, put the car in reverse and sped backward down the other end of the driveway toward two cops, and that one of them, Gregory Breslin, fearing he was about to be hit, fired at the car. His bullet struck Detoy in the head, police said.
But a month later, a witness came forward to challenge the official account, saying that she saw the car Detoy was riding in drive forward, not backward, down the driveway and that Breslin and another officer who fired at the car were never in danger of being hit. The family sued, and in 2000 U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled that Detoy's case was strong enough to go to trial. "A reasonable jury could find that Breslin was not merely reckless, but rather acted with an intent to injure unjustified by legitimate government interest," the judge wrote.
An SFPD internal probe and one by the DA's Office cleared Breslin of wrongdoing. He was later promoted to sergeant and transferred to a security detail at SFO. And true to form, the Police Commission in November 2000 quietly approved a $505,000 legal settlement with Detoy's mother. As part of the deal, there was no admission of police wrongdoing. "No one can credibly say that the officers acted reasonably," says attorney Kaldoun Baghdadi, who represented Detoy's mother. "If I'm wrong, why did the city pay out half a million dollars?"
But unlike some other high-profile cases, the door has remained tenuously ajar in the Detoy matter in a way that demonstrates how impotent the city's oversight of the cops has become. Almost forgotten in the aftermath of the Detoy settlement is the fact that five years ago the OCC also sustained allegations of unnecessary force and conduct discrediting the department against Breslin in the Detoy case. In circling the wagons to protect his officer, former Police Chief Fred Lau essentially vetoed the agency's findings by ignoring them. Only in this case, the OCC, shortly before Lau left as chief in 2001, did something it rarely does. It went over the chief's head to the Police Commission, requesting that the panel pressure Lau to follow through in disciplining the officer. Then the commission did something equally unusual. It instructed Lau to file misconduct charges.
During the campaign over Prop. H, the police union's attorney, Katherine Mahoney, cited the Breslin case as an example of why the ballot measure wasn't needed. "The OCC asked the commission to have the chief file charges, and he did," she said. "It shows that the system works."
Two years after Lau relented under pressure to file charges, there's been no discipline of Breslin or anyone else. The Police Commission sat on the charges and Breslin's lawyers have since filed motions to toss them out, citing statutes of limitation. In the parlance of the Police Commission, five years and three chiefs after Sheila Detoy was gunned down, the matter is "pending."
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