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Turning the Tables 

Police have made a number of arrests and seizures of DJ equipment at underground parties and clubs. Is it enforcement or harassment?

Wednesday, Mar 17 2010
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It was a good party, Arash Ghanadan thought: the right girl-guy ratio, a DJ spinning house music, attractive people. He had arrived alone at the loft space on Folsom at about 2:30 one June morning after finishing up a party he had promoted at a SOMA nightclub. It had been a big night across the city, and his industry friends were upstairs, talking about how their events had gone and who had booked the best DJ. Ghanadan was ready to unwind. He was about to go looking for a vodka and cranberry when the music shut off.

"The cops are here!" somebody said.

It didn't seem like a big deal: After-hours parties often get busted. The 50 people on the upper level started filing downstairs. Ghanadan, a 27-year-old engineer for Hewlett-Packard, was chatting with his friends, not really paying attention. Then, as he looked toward the door, he found himself staring directly a/t an undercover police officer.

Oh, shit, he thought. It's Larry.

He had butted heads with Officer Larry Bertrand six months earlier at an afterparty he was throwing at 570 Jessie in a building full of rehearsal studios. Ghanadan had walked his girlfriend to her car, and when he got back, Bertrand was outside the building door. The cop said he needed to check Ghanadan's permit and demanded to be let inside. Ghanadan refused. It was a private party, he told the cop; just some friends hanging out. He hadn't charged for admission. He saw no reason to let the police in without a warrant.

Bertrand put him in handcuffs and called for backup. Ghanadan said he was made to crouch on the filthy, needle-strewn ground of the alley. Then, Ghanadan alleges, Bertrand kicked his legs several times, trying to get him to sit flat. Ghanadan started to get scared.

At least 10 cops showed up, Ghanadan said, and eventually the fire department arrived to bust open the door.

Ghanadan got off with citations for running an afterparty without a permit and for obstructing a police investigation. "If you had opened the doors at the beginning, I wouldn't have written you a ticket," he says Bertrand told him.

Afterward, Ghanadan filed a complaint against Bertrand with the Office of Citizen Complaints, a civilian body in charge of investigating allegations of police misconduct. Ghanadan contended that Bertrand had wrongfully arrested him, used unnecessary force, and sworn at him.

In May, the OCC sent Ghanadan its findings: Four of his complaints — including wrongful arrest — were judged "proper conduct," meaning that Bertrand had just been doing his job. But Ghanadan's complaints about Bertrand kicking and threatening him were marked "Not Sustained," which meant there was not enough evidence to prove that Bertrand had done something wrong, or to prove that he hadn't.

Now, just a month after the OCC dismissed his complaints about Bertrand, Ghanadan was being confronted by his nemesis once again.

"Arash, come here!" Bertrand called.

"Damn, that guy knows you," someone near Ghanadan said.

When he got to the bottom of the stairs, Ghanadan alleges, Bertrand told him, "I remember you. You made a complaint about me to the OCC — now you will see what happens. I am taking you in and you are going to jail. This is the second time, and you're being arrested for throwing this party."

Even before Bertrand finished saying this, Ghanadan says, the cop was putting him in handcuffs. He tried to explain that he had nothing to do with the party, that he was just a guest, but Bertrand wouldn't listen. As soon as he was cuffed, Ghanadan alleges, Bertrand told the other police officers, "Let everyone else go."

Houdini Hamidi, a nightclub manager who was also at the afterparty, corroborates some of Ghanadan's account. He says he heard a cop call Ghanadan's name, put him in handcuffs, and then tell everyone else to leave. As Hamidi walked past Ghanadan, he says he heard the cop "say something to the effect that he had filed a complaint against him and he was going, 'I'll show you what happens when you file a complaint against me.' It was obviously like a vengeful comment."

Hamidi says he kept walking, not wanting to get involved, but he called Ghanadan the next day to make sure he was all right. Hamidi says he has known Ghanadan professionally through the nightclub scene for almost two years. "I thought it was a very unprofessional thing that the officer had done, and he was abusing his powers," Hamidi said. He has since filed a signed statement with Ghanadan's attorney.

As the officers searched his pockets at the SFPD's Southern Station, which oversees SOMA and the Embarcadero, Ghanadan had a sense of déjà vu. He was wearing the same jeans he had on during his last confrontation with Bertrand. They were Dolce and Gabbana, with four decorative zippers, which the officers kept opening and finding nothing there.

If you get arrested two times in the same jeans, Ghanadan remembers thinking, you should buy another pair.

Later that night, Ghanadan says he watched Bertrand through the glass window of the Southern Station holding cell as Bertrand catalogued the vodka and DJ equipment he had seized at the party. Finally, Ghanadan claims, Bertrand opened the door of the cell. Ghanadan says as he sat there, handcuffed to the bench, he again insisted that it hadn't been his party.

Bertrand accused him of sending e-mails promoting the party. Ghanadan recalled that Bertrand had been playing with his cellphone, as if looking for incriminating text messages.

"I am the king of busting after-hours," Bertrand allegedly boasted.

When you're a king, Ghanadan says he shot back, there's only one direction you can go.

In response, Ghanadan alleges in his lawsuit, Bertrand yelled at him, "Do you think you can complain to the OCC and ruin my record by complaining? Fuck you, I don't feel fucking sorry for you at all. This time you are going to jail, and you won't get out easily." He allegedly said this with another officer standing by. Ghanadan was finally given a citation for running an afterparty without a permit and released at noon. In the lawsuit Ghanadan filed against the city and Bertrand in December, he accused the officer of false arrest and imprisonment. Ghanadan and his attorneys claim that Bertrand arrested him in retribution for his OCC complaint.

About The Author

Lois Beckett

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