By Erin Sherbert
By Howard Cole
By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
His connection to the department started fraying in the closing months of 2002, as the Fajitagate scandal broiled, when he and Dawydiak discovered their colleagues were mishandling evidence pertaining to police misconduct. They decided to go public, telling anyone who would listen, including print and radio outlets.
The issue was this: Under state law, defense lawyers can file what's known as a Pitchess motion to obtain the disciplinary records of cops. The records, which the couple processed while working in SFPD's legal unit, must be relevant to an ongoing criminal case. The idea is that defense attorneys deserve to know if an officer has a history of offering perjurious testimony or kicking people's asses or any other nasty behavior.
But, as Rapagnani and Dawydiak learned, instead of turning over all salient material to the defense bar, the department was withholding evidence, notably the field training files of troubled young cops characters like Alex Fagan Jr., who thrust himself into 16 violent confrontations during his first 13 months in uniform. The duo's revelations carried by the Chronicle, among others prompted San Francisco Superior Court officials to appoint a special master to review some 3,500 cases in which evidence might have been hidden from defense lawyers.
The pair, says Rapagnani, went public because they weren't willing to ignore the law when it came to the Pitchess motions. "Bottom line," he says, "nothing was being done" to fix the evidentiary problem. "The department was absolutely refusing to follow the law," adds Dawydiak. To be sure, the move didn't win Rapagnani and Dawydiak many fans around the Hall of Justice.
As Tabak and his team began stealthily hunting for the cops who smuggled the Stansberry memo to the media, they zeroed in on Rapagnani and Dawydiak, as well as a handful of other cops. In many respects the couple were logical targets. As lawyers for the department they were in frequent contact with administrators and record-keepers around the SFPD, people who had access to piles of paperwork, including documents like the Stansberry memo. And both were obviously distressed about the department burying evidence.
But Rapagnani insists they had nothing to do with passing the Stansberry memo to Van Derbeken or anyone else. The way the ex-cop tells it, "[Van Derbeken] called me and asked about the memo. I told him, 'I'm not confirming or denying its existence, but under no circumstance will you get it, if it even exists.'"
When Rapagnani learned about the department's probe, he laughed it off. "We both thought it was ludicrous we were being investigated. I just thought it was silly," he recalls. "Then I got very angry. ... I had 30 years with no discipline on my record. For them, on a whim, to disregard my 30 years of history and accuse me of violating my ethics as an officer and attorney, was insulting. It pisses me off now."
Another unhappy officer is Capt. Paul Chignell, now head of Ingleside Station. "The investigation of sergeants Rapagnani and Dawydiak was a political witch hunt," argues Chignell, who was also investigated, and who is a longtime friend of the couple.
By August 2004 the department pressed formal misconduct charges against Dawydiak and Rapagnani for leaking the Stansberry memo. Prepping for litigation, the couple's lawyer demanded all the evidence some 2,000 pages stuffed into three huge binders used to damn them. Scrutinizing the evidence, the pair finally realized just how far Tabak and his detectives had pushed it.
Somebody on Tabak's team had compiled a handwritten list of media phone numbers, a list this newspaper has reviewed. Among the phone numbers are the home numbers of Chronicle reporters Susan Sward and Phil Matier; work numbers for numerous former and current Chronicle editors and writers including Van Derbeken, Stacy Finz, Bill Wallace, Trapper Byrne, and Wendy Miller. The list also included phone numbers for KTVU Channel 2 (including that of reporter Rob Roth), ABC 7 (including that of Heather Ishimaru); NBC 11; KCBS Radio; KGO Radio, and Bay City News Service.
Also featured on the list: the personal phone numbers of the beating victims, Jade Santoro and Adam Snyder, as well as the personal cellphone and pager numbers of Rapagnani, Dawydiak, Chignell, and a few other officers.
The provenance of these phone numbers is intriguing. According to the case files, at the same time the SFPD was supposedly seeking out clues about Fagan Jr.'s role in the Fajitagate brawl, Tabak and his detectives were meeting with a private investigator hired by Fagan Jr. The files indicate the PI passed 21 phone numbers to Tabak and his detectives.
Then there were the phone logs of the 2,478 calls in and out of the press room, which Tabak's team had gotten from the city's telecom department. From the case files, Rapagnani says, it's clear Tabak signed off on the plan to collect and analyze those phone records.
Seeking more details about the mechanics of the probe, SF Weekly formally requested from the SFPD photocopies of all the documents amassed by Tabak and company. We made the same request of the City Attorney's office, which is also in possession of the material. Both denied our requests. The City Attorney's office cited a recent court ruling regarding the confidentiality of police personnel files, while SFPD failed to respond.