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"That's when his .45 semiautomatic handgun flew out of his pocket and landed on the sidewalk," Russell said, adding that police that day would have also received a report about "a man with a gun at 2 Garces."
To be fair, it's possible that Russell exaggerated during his deposition, and nobody actually called police about Ruff's alleged theft in May, or about the bicycle assault in June. (I failed to contact Russell after a week of trying.) Maybe neighbors were misled, and there was no police surveillance at 2 Garces during the weeks leading up to the Sullivan shooting. Maybe it wasn't Ruff who harassed the girl.
Two months ago, I requested incident reports pertaining to the Ruff and Sullivan cases as well as any relevant reports from the Taraval police station during the days surrounding June 6, 2006. An attorney for the SFPD told me that the information was being withheld from the public, citing state rules alllowing information to be withheld during litigation, and to protect the integrity of an ongoing investigation.
This wouldn't be the first time that San Francisco police committed serious errors, and then failed to release information about their own investigations. The Hugues de la Plaza case, in which police surmised a man had stabbed himself several times and then cleaned and put away the knife, has become a national symbol of SFPD incompetence. Could Marlon Ruff be next?
Incoming police Chief George Gascon has pledged to end the sort of blunders that have given San Francisco's finest a nationwide reputation for carelessness. He's also said he'd fix the SFPD's reputation for secrecy.
During an interview, I told Gascon about the Marlon Ruff case. He declined to speculate about the details, but suggested it fit a familiar law enforcement pattern. It's possible police apprehended Ruff in May 2006, then released him without realizing he was a fugitive.
"People will lie to the police," Gascon said. "They will tell the police they are someone they aren't. I don't believe we should release someone until we have a very high degree of certainty who they are. If you're arresting people, citing them to come back to court, and not having positively identified them, surprisingly, a lot of people don't show up for court. They'll give you a name that's not theirs. If we have probable cause to arrest, we have to identify that person before they're released."
Gary Delagnes, head of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, says it's not that simple. "It's easy to second guess," he said. "But cops are running from call to call to call to call. If it's a sort of dispute where it's being called mutual combat, cops sometimes don't have time to fingerprint them [suspects] and make sure they're not being lied to. If you stopped everything to take everybody into the station to figure out if they were lying to you, you wouldn't get to do anything else."
Gascon says one solution could be to install a field fingerprinting system, whereby police can positively identify a suspect by linking electronically from the squad car to a central database.
"If you can do wireless fingerprint checking, then if you have reasonable suspicion to stop them, you can take either a thumbprint or a fingerprint and you can get a positive ID while you're in the field, irrespective of whether they are going to be arrested or not," he said.
But that kind of equipment costs money, something San Francisco happens to be short of right now.
A cheaper and possibly more effective solution might be a public evaluation of exactly what happened in Parkmerced during the weeks leading up to the Asa Sullivan shooting.
I, for one, would like to know whether better police work by Officer Bryan Tuvera's colleagues during the spring and summer of 2006 might have ultimately prevented his and Ruff's deaths.