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?

The police report of the incident describes Gomez as confrontational, but confirms that his head went through the window after he was cuffed.

State law mandates that the records of complaints filed against peace officers, as well as their disciplinary records, remain confidential.

What is public knowledge is the fact that police instituted a new policy mandating that a supervising officer be present whenever cops bust underground parties — a direct reaction to the public outcry surrounding media reports about the confiscation of DJs' laptops at these events.

When Bertrand took DJ Justin Credible's laptop out of her hands, she says, she wasn't sure what was going on. She was playing at a friend's private Halloween bash at a large residence in SOMA when the party got busted by the cops. She says she wasn't using her laptop to play music; she had just been worried that it would be stolen if she left it in her car.

As the party was being broken up, she says a man in plainclothes approached her and asked for her laptop. When she produced it, Credible says, he took it and walked away. She followed him outside, where the party's other DJs were standing by, equally shocked at the confiscation of their equipment. Credible says that when the man opened the trunk of an unmarked car, she saw three or four laptops inside, as well as a DJ bag.

When she asked him what he was doing, she claims that he told her, "I'm going to single-handedly shut down every illegal party. We are a new task force, and this is our primary goal, to shut down these parties."

One of Credible's friends protested that one of the laptops belonged to his roommate. Bertrand allegedly responded, "You're never going to see this property again."

Credible got her laptop back a month later after the intervention of Jennifer Granick, an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who called the seizures "illegal" and "improper."

In the wake of a January meeting involving Granick, Gascón, and other city officials, the SFPD instituted a new policy mandating the presence of a supervising officer at busts of illegal parties and thorough documentation of any seized property.

"We're not saying anything was done wrong at the time," said Officer Boaz Mariles, an SFPD spokesman. "The officers acted as per the evidence code. Now we're just trying to take a step back. Maybe there are questions at the scene that needed to be answered, that the supervisors would need to address ... more interaction with the community."

Advocates of San Francisco's underground music scene, which is largely centered in SOMA, said the confiscations have had a chilling effect on parties, which they say are a crucial part of the city's culture and an important incubator for new talent.

"If SFPD's goal has been to stop arts activity in the neighborhood, they've succeeded," SOMA arts space activist Skot Kuiper said. He publicly called out Bertrand as a "blight" on the police department during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 9, the same day a "call the mayor" campaign orchestrated by supporters in front of City Hall protested the crackdown on underground parties.

"I've never known a more universally hated person in a neighborhood" than Bertrand, he said in an interview.

Jim Meko, a SOMA community activist and a member of the Entertainment Commission, said he has little sympathy for artists who throw illegal parties and then are shocked when the police bust them. He doesn't buy into what some have described as "the War on Fun."

"The misbehavior in the entertainment community got so institutionalized that the first thing they do is go running to the Board of Supervisors, expecting them to sanction [parties]," he said.

Meko calls himself "probably the police department's best friend on the Entertainment Commission." But, he said, Bertrand's name "has come up so frequently that I would have to question what his motives are. ... The burden on him is to justify what the hell he's trying to accomplish."

In a city like San Francisco, Meko said, the ideal is police enforcement that understands that nightclub noise and crowds are part of city life, and cops who can take a measured approach to keeping them in line.

But "there are elements in the police department that go beyond overzealous, that are just getting off on making life miserable for some venues."

As Meko noted, the sheer volume of anecdotal complaints racked up by Bertrand and Ott in six months is hard to ignore. Even if the two are being villainized by melodramatic nightlife activists, they seem to have given their critics plenty of ammunition.

The loudest complaints against Bertrand and Ott come from a cluster of clubs on 11th Street. This stretch between Folsom and Harrison draws an eclectic crowd: On a given night, there may be younger fans from all-ages rock shows at Slim's, partygoers from Mist's Asian or hip-hop events, guys in pirate hats for DNA Lounge's Bootie Night, or even scantily clad clowns for its Bohemian Carnival.

The owners of four 11th Street venues — DNA, Mist, Butter, and one shuttered club, Caliente — have all gone on the record with SF Weekly with complaints against Bertrand and Ott. (Staff from two other SOMA nightclubs described similar complaints, but said they were unwilling to go on the record for fear of being targeted. )

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