Cops Watching Cops

Check out the finalists the Police Commission is interviewing to take the helm at the Office of Citizen Complaints, the civilian police watchdog agency. But first, clamp firmly on nose.

Russ Quinn, a middle-aged former police chief from Hercules, a tiny town in the East Bay with a police force of 18. Quinn, who left policing because of a heart attack, is now investigating credit card fraud for Wells Fargo Bank. No oversight experience.

Lance Bayer, a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County. Bayer was an enthusiastic volunteer in Mayor Frank Jordan's Save the Giants campaign in 1992. Among other things, Bayer provided intelligence on South Bay investors who were trying to lure the Giants to San Jose. No oversight experience.

Michael Porter, a former police officer from the Washington, D.C., area and the ex-husband of the last OCC director, Alfreda Davis Porter, who was forced to resign by the Police Commission for her disastrous tenure in office. Since 1993, Michael Porter has headed the Housing Authority's complement of security officers. Avid golfer. No oversight experience.

Don Casimere, former Berkeley police officer and current director of the Richmond Police Commission, the city's civilian police oversight agency. Casimere's office handles up to 30 misconduct complaints a year, of which about 20 percent result in discipline. San Francisco handles several thousand complaints a year. The knock on Casimere, who worked in the San Francisco OCC as senior investigator from 1983-84, is that he turned a blind eye to the director's frequent absences and his failure to handle complaints in a timely manner. “Find a niche and skate,” he allegedly told his co-workers according to more than one source. Casimere refused to respond to the criticism from his old OCC colleagues.

Barbara Attard, current OCC senior investigator. An aggressive and talented investigator who isn't afraid of cops, Attard gets low marks from OCC staff for her management skills.

Using the OCC as a retirement home for former police officers and prosecutors is a San Francisco tradition. Of the four past directors, one was a former cop, one a former DA, and one a former security specialist and ex-Army colonel.

Thanks to their pro-cop bias and their incompetence, timidity, venality, and sloth, all of the past directors contributed to bringing the agency to its knees.

The OCC's first director in 1983, Gene Swann, was a retired district attorney who spent his time reading the Wall Street Journal and preparing lesson plans for his UC Berkeley economics class as the agency disintegrated under him. He was finally fired when then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein discovered that he was falsely claiming a city residence.

Director No. 2 in 1985, Frank Shober, was an ex-U.S. Army colonel and former National Guard general who thought one of the best ways to handle police misconduct was to launch an image-improving campaign for cops. Bus advertisements featured policemen pictured with their mothers offering public safety tips. His investigative acumen was called into question when it was discovered that police spied on political activists during the 1984 Democratic Convention, an event where Shober was in charge of security.

Hired in 1987, director three, Michael Langer, was a former Skokie, Ill., cop who ignored incompetent staffers and crumbled under the endless attacks of the Police Department.

And the most recent director, Alfreda Davis Porter, whose gilded rŽsumŽ made her seem a savior when she was hired in 1991, was chased out of town by the Police Commission after it was discovered she hardly ever showed up for work, took home and lost numerous investigative files, stalled on politically charged cases, and allegedly falsified her overtime records.

After Porter was asked to resign in late 1993, Mayor Jordan's Police Commission twiddled its thumbs, seemingly uninterested in finding a new director to right the OCC. They were more than happy to allow the former Oakland cop who was acting director continue to steer the rudderless agency. Only after Supervisor Tom Ammiano started making noise did the commissioners begin searching for a full-time director. The commissioners didn't have to work very hard to ensure a continuation of the OCC's sorry legacy.

The selection committee, appointed by the commission, was staffed by a former homicide inspector, a deputy district attorney, a public defender, and a Delancey Street official.

But the backgrounds of the police commissioners is an even more telling barometer of the outcome. Overseeing the hiring is a compliant ex-judge, an investigator for the district attorney, a former DA, an ex-cop, and a Republican ex-supervisor whose father and uncles were all San Francisco cops.

As a result, the OCC “office pool,” an informal betting circle that normally proves correct, has Quinn or Casimere as the likely choices. “They're both former cops,” says one agency staffer. “I'm sure that gave the commissioners an erection.”

Adds a second OCC staffer: “It's just so damn disappointing. We had hopes that given the amount of time they took to conduct the search that they might come up with a grouping that was more representative of the community that brought civilian review to the city. Instead, I guess we're doomed to endlessly end up with directors who are happy if they sustain 2 percent of the cases they get.”

Sadly, this greasing of the tracks for another weak, compromised OCC is at complete odds with the anything-goes mentality that's taken hold in the Police Department since former Police Chief Frank Jordan was elected.

Defense attorney Nanci Clarence, who was at the Hall of Justice the day after Jordan's election, remembers the palpable change in police attitude. “It was like the lunatics running the asylum,” she says. “You could see and feel the elation of the police officer showing up to testify. The sissy liberals had been thrown out, and the old boys were back in charge.”

Just this month, the need for a strong, independent OCC was brought into stark relief by the $300,000 court settlement the city paid out to avoid a wrongful death suit and the two suspects who died in custody after resisting arrest and being subdued by packs of officers.

The unusually large court settlement was paid to the family of a man who was allegedly shot in the back as he ran away from Officer William Wohler.

On June 4, Aaron Williams, a burglary suspect, died of a heart attack as he lay unattended in a police van after what witnesses say was a savage attack by 12 officers. Only two days earlier, another suspect died of a heart attack in police custody after numerous officers were called in to subdue him.

The Williams death also exposed the reluctance of police officials to face up to misconduct and fire or retrain officers. Three of the four senior officers in charge during Williams' alleged beating had been sued in the past for violent acts of alleged brutality, costing the city almost $30,000 in out-of-court settlements.

But perhaps the best example of the police's attitudes about misconduct came from the inspector in charge of assessing who was at fault in the death of Williams. Inspector Jim Bergstrom told the Associated Press: “When this guy was alive he was a bum. And all of a sudden … you forget about his blemishes. He was cracked up to his eyeballs. He just burned himself out.” (Wonder how Bergstrom's probe will come out.)

Yet, even these provocative events fail to outrage OCC supporters. Not that they've lost interest, but after watching the same train wreck for 12 years, only shallow reservoirs of emotion remain.

“It's dŽjà vu,” says Ammiano, who has made reforming the OCC a top priority.

“I haven't yet given up hope, but I'm feeling very, very tired,” says Clarence, who handles many police brutality cases and was a key backer of the 1982 ballot measure that created the OCC.

As Clarence speaks to a reporter, she notices a new brutality complaint against Officer Wohler sitting on her desk. “My God,” she mutters. “Won't they ever get it?”

Clarence sees subtle sabotage at work in the continued selection of bad OCC directors. “It's the POA politics in this town,” she says, referring to the powerful police union. “They are a tremendously important constituency to have in your favor if you are a politician.”

So mayors pick do-nothing bureaucrats or pro-cop police commissioners who ensure that the OCC never gets a maverick director who can stand the whipsaw political winds that swirl around the issue of police discipline.

But in addition to leadership, Ammiano says the OCC needs sweeping reform. The freshman supervisor has established an informal working group of civil rights advocates, attorneys, and activists who are drafting a charter amendment aimed at putting the OCC on track.

Some of the ideas include skirting the police commission and establishing a new judicial panel to mete out police discipline; a budget trigger that funds an OCC investigator for every 150 officers; and allowing the OCC to go around the police chief and prosecute more cases before the Police Commission.

Involved in Ammiano's working group are relatives and neighbors of Tim Sullivan, the Excelsior district youth killed by Officer Wohler. “I will do everything I can to make sure people like the Sullivans are not shined on anymore,” says Ammiano. “I'm not going to let go of this issue.

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