Five Mission Station officers are shown on surveillance video taking what appears to be a laptop and a camera from the Julian Hotel, an SRO hotel near the 16th Street BART station, according to a press release issued by the Public Defender’s Office today.
Says the press release:
The footage stems from a Feb. 25, 2011 illegal search and drug arrest by Mission Station officers Ricardo Guerrero, Reynaldo Vargas, Jacob Fegan, Christopher Servat and Adam Kujath.
In the video, officers can be seen walking into the building empty-handed. However, Guerrero is later seen leaving with property that appears to be consistent with a laptop inside a bag, which was confirmed missing from the room later that day along with a camera. Vargas is carrying a second bag containing unknown items. Neither bag was booked into evidence.
The press release also states that the police report maintains that the room’s resident, Jesus “Jessie” Reyes, 64, matched a description provided to SFPD by a confidential informant. The report states that Reyes agreed to let police search his minivan and then offered to let them search his room, where they found methamphetamine.
Reyes was arrested, but prosecutors dropped charges against him on May 4 after Guerrero failed to show up to testify despite being issued a subpoena. According to his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Cindy Elias, Reyes had never been arrested before.
Reyes maintains that he never consented to a search, and that police did not respond when he asked them if they had an arrest warrant. According to Reyes, officers then took his keys and searched his room while he waited outside with Fegan. Reyes asked if they had a search warrant, but was ignored, he said. Reyes said that his reading glasses were taken from him and he was asked to sign a form that he believed was to return his personal property, but learned upon arriving in court that he had signed a search consent form instead.
When Reyes was released from jail, his wife — the only other person with keys to the room — informed him that their nephew’s laptop computer and a Sony Cybershot 12-megapixel camera was missing.
The video release comes less than a week after the Public Defender’s Office released surveillance footage that they say documents a similar incident on Dec. 30 at the Jefferson Hotel, in which Guerrero is also seen leaving an SRO room with a large bag that was not booked into evidence.
The evidence gathered so far is evidence of systematic misconduct within the Police Department, said Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Disciplinary records of police officers in the State of California have been sealed to the public since the Copley Decision in 2006. But some allegations of misconduct do come to light, usually in court documents from lawsuits. According to an article published last year in the San Francisco Chronicle, Reynaldo Vargas was suspended for six months in 2002 for gouging a suspected cable-car fare-jumper in the face with a crack pipe. The family of the suspect, Raymund Nario, filed a citizen complaint with the city accusing Vargas of using excessive force. The Police Department filed further disciplinary charges against Vargas for lying about his treatment of Nario.
Vargas admitted to using too much force, but not to lying, when the case was settled at the Police Commission in 2005. Nario accepted $60,000 from the city to drop a lawsuit against the Police Department, and Vargas returned to field duty in the Mission.
Ricardo Guerrero has also been in the news, but not for a disciplinary action. According to The Bay Citizen, he was the highest-paid officer in the SFPD in 2009, earning $223,170.
The Public Defender’s Office, led by Adachi, has made a priority of investigating police misconduct. Since March it has been posting YouTube videos from SRO surveillance cameras that it maintains show SFPD officers conducting warrantless searches and attacking suspects.
“We want these cops to be taken off the streets and the SFPD to have zero tolerance toward officers that break the law,” said Tamera Aparton, a spokeswoman for the Public Defender’s Office. “Some of these officers were testifying on cases on Monday.” Aparton said she thought that all four officers in the surveillance video were suspended from duty today, but phone calls made by Mission Loc@l to SFPD media relations have as yet been unable to verify this.
Aparton said the Public Defender’s Office continues to gather evidence against SFPD officers who have been involved in illegal searches.
Mission Station Police Chief Greg Corrales was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.