A swarm of police officers stumbled onto an alleged illegal gambling den in the Excelsior on Sunday morning while responding to a call of a “fight involving a gun,” according to police.
Police found no fights nor guns when they arrived at 5088 Mission St., near Geneva, at about 7:15 a.m., but they did discover four gambling machines, according to police spokesman Officer Robert Rueca.
The accidental raid resulted in 19 people being handcuffed and questioned, and one man being cited for possession and operation of the machines.
None of them were booked.
Video of the incident, shared with Mission Local, reveals about 10 officers — some armed with semi-automatic rifles — taking people out of the building, handcuffing them and making them sit on the sidewalk.
“We were shocked by the number of people came out of that building,” said Dennes Hernandez, who owns and lives in the building two doors down from the alleged gambling den. He said the building’s residents — he guessed four total — would often dump their trash in other people’s bins. He said he suspected something had been going on there, but did not know exactly what.
Hernandez, however, was not happy with how police treated the surrounding businesses, namely the grocery store on the ground floor of his building. It was there that police lined up the suspects in handcuffs and questioned them for nearly five hours, he said, which deterred business and created a negative perception of the store, Rincon Latino. He said the cops were not receptive to those concerns, even though he had cooperated with them.
“We were doing everything to make sure it was a successful operation,” he said. “But what can we do to make sure the people who are responsible for this (the police) are held accountable?”
Gambling dens in the Mission and the Excelsior have proliferated in recent years and have often eluded local law enforcement. As Mission Local reported, police raided a den in the Excelsior last October, which resulted in four arrests.
In March, City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the alleged owners of the den, asking for a court order to close the den for a year, in addition to penalties of $25,000 per defendant. “This gambling den is like a weed,” Herrera said after he filed the lawsuit.
Illegal gambling dens are, indeed, difficult to bust. It took two raids to take down the Jhec of all Trades gambling den — despite the fact that police discovered cash and large amounts of suspected meth inside the building during the initial raid.
A den at 2949 Mission St. — once a soda and candy shop called the Fizzary — was regularly a site of prostitution, back-alley fights and shootings. And it, too, was difficult to shut down.
This site near Geneva is no exception. According to Rueca, the mere possession of the machines is no serious crime. And police aren’t always this lucky: Usually, to get into a suspected den, police need to constantly surveil a suspected spot before establishing probable cause to enter.
Rueca said that often, officers will find narcotics, illegal structures, and unpermitted alcohol sales at gambling dens. But police did not find any of those things this time — hence the lack of arrests.
“Rarely do we find it’s just gambling,” he said.
This time, however, it appears it was just gambling.