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Friday, March 18, 2011

'Bait Car' Conversations with Cops Likely to Be Revealed, Could Help Alleged Car Thieves

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 3:39 PM

click to enlarge As they say, the devil is in the details.
  • As they say, the devil is in the details.

The nitty-gritty details of the behind-the-scenes discussions between San Francisco police and truTV's Bait Car reality TV show will likely be revealed in court -- soon.

On Thursday, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Andrew Cheng said he was granting a motion that will force prosecutors to hand over all of the conversations and information exchanged between the city and the show's producers regarding the on-camera sting that was conducted last year.

The ruling applies to the cases of four alleged car thieves who were busted on-camera while taking a car that was intentionally abandoned by undercover cops, often with the door open and the keys in the ignition.

The Public Defender's Office is calling Thursday's ruling a victory for the defendants.

"It's everything we want," says Evan Budaj, a volunteer with the Public Defender's Office. "I know on TV, I've seen officers running with their

guns out. I've seen the girls who jump out [of the bait car] and make a

big scene."

He continues, "It will be interesting to see if those two things are things

they planned ahead of time, like 'Yeah, you should run up to the car

with your guns out because that's good for TV,' or is that something

they thought of at the time?"

Cheng said he was granting the motion, but it won't become official until the public defender submits the order and police have the opportunity to formally object to it.

Highlights from the public defender's request include the following:

  • Notes, scripts, e-mails, or any other communication between KKI Productions and any city department about mechanics of the bait car sing.
  • Any discussions about locations or individuals targeted for the show.
  • Any verbal "enticement" from the cops or KKI encouraging defendants to take the car.
  • Any scripts or memos in which the four defendants are discussed. 

The defense attorneys scored another victory earlier this year, when two

San Francisco judges demanded that prosecutors release all of KKI's footage of the alleged car

thieves.

As we wrote in our January cover story,

KKI argued that the footage was protected by the federal shield law for

journalists. Yet Cheng and Judge Gerardo Sandoval rejected that

argument, ruling that KKI had waived its shield law privileges when it signed its contract with the city. The contract stated that KKI would hand over

any footage subpoenaed by the city or the District Attorney's Office.



With the new requested information at hand, defense attorneys might be able to produce a similar argument to that of Deputy Public Defender Steve Rosen, who argued that because police had left the car with the goal for someone to steal it, there wasn't a "lack of consent," key language of the state's joyriding law. A San Francisco judge bought the argument and dismissed the charges against Rosen's client. 

Erica Derryck, spokeswoman for the DA's Office, says it's up to police now to contest the order, since they have the vast majority of those documents.

Budaj remains optimistic. "I think there's going to be some

really interesting things in these documents," he says. "I'm excited to see what's

there."

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly 

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Lauren Smiley

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