SFPD possibly detained and released fugitive who later killed cop

Early-to-mid-2006 saw a rupture in the suburban tranquillity that usually defines the kidney-shaped courtyard lawns, curving pathways, and portico-porch duplexes of Parkmerced, the 1941-built garden apartment complex near SF State.

"We saw big Cadillacs pull up with guards accompanying the driver, and when you'd go to your home, they'd stand up in a threatening manner," said one woman who lived near 2 Garces Drive, a two-story duplex facing onto a semiprivate courtyard. "They'd take suitcases out of the trunk, stay 10 minutes, and drive out without the suitcases.

"The front door was open 24-7," she continued. "It was a revolving door, actually, as kids selling drugs would show up and leave, riding around the neighborhood peddling drugs on their bikes." Neighbors began referring to the apartment as a "drug house." The half-dozen or so men living there on and off referred to it as a "flophouse."

One of the regulars at this drug den was a troublemaker and fugitive named Marlon Ruff, known in the neighborhood as "Chuck." Ruff was wanted by police after beating and robbing a Brink's courier in 2003 and escaping from a Humboldt County prison roadwork crew in February 2005, more than three years before his scheduled release date.

Ruff had made his way back to his hometown of San Francisco and slept in Parkmerced storage rooms. He also hung out at and occasionally spent the night at 2 Garces. Residents there knew him as a guy who rode his bicycle around Parkmerced selling possibly stolen property, reeking of crack cocaine, and packing a .45 automatic pistol. Ruff told anyone who would listen that he planned on someday going down in a blaze-of-glory shootout with police.

"He was a bully," said David Russell, a former 2 Garces resident, during a 2008 deposition in a pending lawsuit.

One day in late May 2006, Russell recalled coming home and seeing Ruff running out of the apartment. Once inside, Russell noticed a valuable ring of his was missing.

"I called a friend of mine, and she called the police," Russell said in response to a question from an attorney at his deposition. "And then I walked up the street and saw the police tackle him and take him away." Russell was then asked whether, to his knowledge, Chuck was arrested on that day.

"I'm pretty sure he was. He was out three hours later, though," Russell replied.

It's unclear why police might have released Ruff. Did he give a fake name they didn't check? Was the theft accusation so flimsy that cops let him go? Did Russell exaggerate during his deposition and say Ruff was arrested when he actually wasn't?

The answers to these questions might show whether the death of a San Francisco police officer might have been prevented.

On December 22, 2006, the 33-year-old Ruff fulfilled his fantasy, dying in a shootout in which he killed Officer Bryan Tuvera, who had chased the fugitive into a garage trying to serve his arrest warrant, before being shot dead by Tuvera's partner. Could two lives have been saved if police supposedly hadn't let Ruff go earlier that year?

The information about Ruff's purported arrest comes from a deposition given in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by the family of Asa Sullivan, Russell's roommate, against the police department. The lawsuit stems from the now-notorious June 6, 2006, standoff at 2 Garces, in which police officers shot Sullivan 16 times. Much has been written about the shooting, in which police say they began firing on Sullivan, who was hiding in the attic, after mistakenly believing he reached for a weapon. But the full story of another former 2 Garces regular, Marlon Ruff, hasn't been written. Like Sullivan's, it's also a tale that suggests something troubling with our police department, which somehow couldn't detain a fugitive who was allegedly committing crimes right under their noses.

Additional anecdotal evidence suggests that Ruff evaded San Francisco police more than once. It seems possible that he might have been the big one who got away once, then again, and then stayed away until police finally tracked him down months later and cornered him in a garage.

Aside from the May 2006 arrest Russell alluded to, Parkmerced neighbors say they were told that police were keeping 2 Garces under surveillance because of their complaints. If that was the case, surely they must have been aware that Ruff was a reputed thief and chronic drug user.

A day or so before the Sullivan shooting, neighbors filed a police report describing an incident in which a man on a bicycle harassed a schoolgirl on the sidewalk. "My daughter was being verbally abused," said the girl's mother, who asked not to be named because she didn't want to bring attention to herself or her daughter. "This kid was circling her while she was walking to work, calling her filthy, foul names. I came home from work. We called the police, and filed a complaint at the Taraval police station. We didn't know the name of the attacker." The girl, however, later identified Ruff as the harasser, after initially fingering a different 2 Garces resident.

On June 5, Ruff got in a fight with Russell after Russell accused him of stealing his ring. Ruff swung his bicycle, cutting a deep gash in Russell's arm.

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