Cops Who SPY

Around the same time, somebody slipped the memo to ABC 7 news reporter Heather Ishimaru, who used the document in a TV broadcast.

The leak set off a chain of events that were illustrative of the department's priorities.

With the shot-callers in upper echelons of the department signaling they had no intention of truly investigating the Fajitagate morass, key players within the department directed their energies in a different direction, covertly opening a vigorous criminal probe dedicated to discovering who leaked the Stansberry memo to the media. And during the course of the probe, a secret team, helmed by Morris Tabak, then head of the Special Investigations Division, gathered up a fat stack of documents: the records of more than 2,400 phone calls to and from journalists working in the Hall of Justice press room. In addition to Van Derbeken, reporters with local TV and radio affiliates use the room — and its phone lines — as does the Daily Journal, a newspaper covering legal affairs.

The phone records, which the SF Weekly has reviewed, indicate police detectives scrutinized phone calls made to and from the press room between December 1, 2002, and February 28, 2003, in hopes of ferreting out the cop who passed the memo to Van Derbeken. By scouring the data, which looks like a home phone bill, the detectives could figure out which cops were talking to Van Derbeken and the other journalists.

But the records also contained the phone numbers of dozens of people who didn't work for the department — be they prosecutors, defense attornies, judges, probation officers, deputy sheriffs, crime victims — and were interviewed for articles and broadcasts that had nothing to do with the Stansberry memo. With the records in hand, the police could unmask all of the anonymous sources who talked to the reporters over the phone lines, if they so desired. Any confidentiality the reporters had promised to their sources had just ceased to exist, although the press corps didn't know it — the detectives never alerted them to the fact that they were poring over the phone data.

Not surprisingly, word of the phone monitoring by the police does not sit well with those in the media world. "It's outrageous," says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, an advocacy group based in the D.C. area. "What we have here is deception, bad faith, and sneakiness in an effort to find the leakers."

While the private investigators in the HP scandal apparently lied to phone companies to gain access to the personal phone records of reporters and HP board members, the police didn't have to go to those lengths. Because the main phone line running into the press room belongs to the city, Tabak and his team could simply request the phone records from the city's Department of Telecommunications and Information Services. Given the circumstances, Dalglish figures there's probably no potential lawsuit facing the department for collecting the data. Still, she says, "I can certainly think of no better way to declare war on the press corps. You have just eviscerated any trust you had with the news media."

At the national level, Dalglish notes, federal guidelines — with some post-9/11 national security exceptions — require U.S. attorneys to inform journalists when they intend to go plowing through their phone records.

Peter Scheer, a journalist and lawyer who heads the California First Amendment Coalition, says, "for reporters there is the interest in being free to get the news out without being seen as extensions of the government or police. But if every phone call is a means to capture evidence by the police, that jeopardizes the ability of the media to do their job."

In his view, though, the journalists may share some culpability. "If I were one of these reporters I would be very angry," Scheer says, adding, "I'd kind of feel stupid, too, for using a [city phone line]. I'd certainly know that I'd have to use a cellphone, and not even to trust a cellphone with sources who are especially sensitive."

The department, which defends the tactics employed in the leak probe, isn't saying much about the matter. "We've determined that no departmental procedures or policies were violated, and no First Amendment rights were violated," relates Sgt. Steve Mannina, a spokesperson, in a terse statement.

Not everybody shares that opinion — just ask the officers who found themselves ensnared by the leak probe.

Blue blood rushes through Reno Rapagnani's veins. His dad was a San Francisco cop. His mom worked as a civilian in the department's internal affairs bureau. He even married a cop, a woman named Leanna Dawydiak, a sergeant.

During nearly three decades as a sworn peace officer, Rapagnani performed just about every job you could imagine. He defused explosives with the bomb squad, guarded Mayor Art Agnos, collared wife-batterers for the domestic violence unit, and, late in his career, served as a department lawyer. For his street-level heroics, department officials awarded him seven medals of valor.

"I was as cop as you can get," says Rapagnani, who climbed to the dual rank of sergeant-inspector.

That changed when he and Dawydiak were blamed for leaking the Stansberry memo, while working as lawyers for the department. Today, Rapagnani, a thin, solemn 60-year-old man with a ruddy complexion and a mustache going to gray, is wrangling with deeply conflicting emotions about the department to which he devoted his life.

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