Police officers surround the scene of a motorcycle accident in the first blocks of Valencia Street, on December 3, 2018.

A day before the San Francisco Police Department’s Internal Affairs department found that Sgt. Michael Mellone should face a 10-day suspension for unnecessarily escalating a situation that led to Luis Gongora Pat being shot and killed in 2016, Mellone quit the SFPD. 

Only days later and 45 miles away, Mellone started his first shift with the Antioch Police Department. He never received discipline as an SFPD officer but was nevertheless welcomed in Antioch with open arms. 

But Mellone is not the only former SFPD police officer to quit before being disciplined in San Francisco — a maneuver that helps police officers dodge accountability, and perhaps a black mark on their record. 

Since 2016, more than two dozen SFPD officers have done the same, including three this year alone, according to data collected by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.  

In many of these cases, the officers faced much more serious discipline than Mellone; longer suspensions or terminations for serious offenses. Some of these serious offenses include, for example: “engaging in public acts of sexual intercourse in his assigned district while off duty,” “continued use of illegal narcotics,” and “possession of [a] firearm while intoxicated.” 

No problem for the officers. After each of these cases, the officer resigned before the Police Commission could mete out discipline, according to commission records. 

The effect is twofold. By resigning, a police officer can jump to another police force and undergo the screening process without the stain of a disciplinary action on their record. 

Meanwhile, an officer leaving before a decision by the Police Commission also means they can dodge the state’s new transparency law for the release of records where dishonesty and sexual assault are involved. If the officer leaves, he or she avoids a final decision, and that final decision by the Police Commission is typically needed for the SFPD to release records showing those misconduct issues. 

But the SFPD appears to be taking steps to address the problem. At a Jan. 6 Police Commission meeting, Chief Bill Scott laid out a previously undisclosed process for officers who resign with open disciplinary cases. 

If an officer resigns before his or her hearing in front of the Police Commission — the seven-member board tasked with imposing serious discipline, such as long-term suspensions and terminations — the case is returned back to the chief to make a determination about whether the officer committed wrongdoing. In this case, the police chief would go with what he originally recommended to the Police Commission. 

If the chief determines the officer did commit wrongdoing, the SFPD offers the police officer a chance to appeal the chief’s determination. Scott said the officer has 30 days to review the case files and make the appeal. If the appeal is lost, the misconduct becomes part of the officer’s record. 

Commissioner John Hamasaki said in a recent interview that the process is relatively new. It required multiple legal memos clarifying whether it was even within San Francisco’s jurisdiction to continue investigations and make determinations regarding the misconduct of police officers who were no longer with the force.  

Since joining the Police Commission three years ago, Hamasaki has often inquired about how the Police Commission should deal with such cases, and he received the same answer: “The Police Commission has no jurisdiction. There’s nothing you can do.” 

But the city’s outlook recently changed, he said, and the informal policy, outlined by the chief in January, followed. Hamasaki said he believes it will create more accountability for police officers, make records more transparent to the public, and allow the Police Commission and the SFPD to better track misconduct. 

“It’s a huge issue, because some of the misconduct that we’ve seen at the Police Commission has been extremely serious,” he said. And some officers were “retiring — and no-harm-no-foul. It was to me an intolerable state of affairs.”

The SFPD, meanwhile, contends that what changed were the requirements under SB 1421, the new law that makes some misconduct files — including serious use of force, sexual assault, and dishonesty — open for request. 

For a case file concerning on-the-job sexual assault or dishonesty to be released, SFPD spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak said, the chief can make a determination about whether the officer is guilty, and then must provide the resigned officer with a chance to appeal. The SFPD is still ironing out the appeals process, Andraychak said. 

Brian Cox, a deputy public defender and a close observer of SFPD reform, says the informal policy has its flaws. 

For starters, he argued, there is no mandate that the police department continue investigations after an officer resigns. Chief Scott could “change his mind” about whether to continue the policy, he said, or “the next Chief could decline to let the discipline process play out.”

Moreover, he said, shifting final say over serious discipline from the Police Commission to the chief makes him “nervous.” 

“If the point is to have civilian oversight for significant misconduct cases as the Charter clearly specifies,” Cox said, “why is the chief supplanting the commission’s authority?”

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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30 Comments

    1. More reporting of police misconduct, not anti-police reporting. Thanks Julian Mark and Mission Local!!

    2. Some police officers do their job properly and do it well. Others ignore the duties we should all expect of them and instead abuse their positions of power.

      Some critics claim the first group doesn’t exist. When I try to push back on that position, comments like the one from R*ndy make my job harder. To argue that identifying loopholes that let bad cops avoid accountability equals a diss on all cops is to argue that all cops are bad cops. If we can’t hold bad cops accountable, we make it impossible to retain good cops.

  1. A “cycle of life” to consider:

    1. Mission Station punishes police officers for unnecessary escalations
    2. Officers quit instead and leave for Antioch PD, where they continue to escalate against criminals
    3. Criminals from Antioch travel to the Mission to practice their trades, versus less-escalating officers from Mission Station
    4. Repeat the cycle

    1. Rinse – repete – rinse – delete . . ., from existence. Nicely done & I agree with you 100 percent. Whenever I – a Black man -step outside my door and walk outside or drive my car (late model & expensive) – I am worried about being killed by a police officer more than anyone else. I have ZERO respect for cops – bullys and racist highschool educated cretins – every last one of them.

      1. I don’t think the cops ever got out of middle school, should be criteria. Uneducated ignorant thugs diminished sfpd and their PROFFESSION!

        1. Did you call and ask your state assembly person to vote in favor of AB-89? Unfortunately the original age and education requirements were lowered before Republican assembly member would vote in favor. Good news is the requirements are being raised.
          Don’t just complain, get involved and do something to make a change. A phone call is just as easy as leaving a comment bitching about a person who would literally take a bullet to save your life.

    2. You are calling all residents that interact with the escalating officer “criminals” whereas that doesn’t seem to be the case, in SF or Antioch. When the escalating officer kills/murders an innocent due to unnecessary escalation they don’t get a chance to go to SF and be innocent residents there – they are dead. You see the problem isn’t the unnecessary escalation with criminals – the police aren’t Judge, Jury, and Executioner – it’s the assumption the officer makes that they are facing a violent criminal when the resident hasn’t had a chance to prove their innocence.

  2. I’m not anti-police or pro “defund the police” in any way. I also believe that any officer should have the right to a fair hearing regarding a potential misconduct accusation. However, it seems like quitting the day before an adverse judgment is handed down in order to keep one’s record clean (and being able to take said “clean” record to another police force) is a perversion of the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. This is a loophole that can and should be closed.

    1. I agree. The solution is simple: continue the process even if the officer quits. If he applies for another position before the commission (and whoever else might be involved), make sure his record shows that a disciplinary investigation is taking place. There are two critical points here. First, the public has a right to know what happened. Also, the officer has a right to clear any cloud that may hang over his head. But (maybe) more importantly, a completed investigation might lead to non employment consequences. With the possible easing of qualified Immunity, there might be civil or criminal implications.

    2. It would be a viable solution to continue the process IF We had a fair system here in San Francisco for the police accountability. But it is not fair it treats the criminals with more respect than it treats the police. San Francisco is becoming disgusting cesspool of crime

      1. Curious,
        How do you know that? Do you work for the justice department? Fair? Police getting away with criminality is so alarming. If the damn cops can’t act right, then what can we expect from civilians? Cesspool? You know where the door is!!!!

  3. great article. if this is the norm throughout the state, it seems pretty clear that there should be a state law so that all jurisdictions follow the same process. how many bad cops is sf getting as transfers from other cities. it sounds like a giant bad cop swap.

  4. Everyone. I mean everyone, in todays society deep down knows whats honorable and dishonorable. On a individual level. Individually, on a day to day basis, we choose which one we will pick at each moment. As a society we should hold it above and beyond our individual level of common sense. As a community, neighborhood, city, state, local and as a whole country. Be held accountable for there good and bad deeds. Meaning show the good and punish the wrong. In or out of public service.

  5. Great piece, thank you Julian! It’s about time we make the police more accountable for its crimes.

  6. I’m confused, we have a District Attorney that keeps releasing suspects who have multiple weapon possession charges, but an officer that has been “engaging in public acts of sexual intercourse in his assigned district while off duty,” “continued use of illegal narcotics,” and “possession of [a] firearm while intoxicated” doesn’t keep getting passes, there is an imbalance.

    I don’t like a dirty cop anymore than I like the guy that endangers or streets. Brother Julian Mark, cop or no cop, when accountability is delivered both ways in San Francisco, maybe you’re article won’t seem so bias.

  7. Zero respect for cops? That’s dumb. Not all are bad, just like not all the people driving expensive cars are bad. Some crook carjacks you, just who are you going to call? The car dealership? No, you’ll be the first one crying to the 9-1-1 dispatcher to send help.

  8. Thanks for your ongoing reporting on the police, Julian. It’s not enough to kick the worst police offenders out to other cities where they’ll continue to abuse others…they have to lose the possibility of ever working again as cops.

  9. Typically police departments take MONTHS to hire officers due the interview, background, psychological, and medical examinations that are required. Sergeant Mellone must have began this process before the department even announced its finding. This had to be political, why would SFPD have promoted him almost a year before? The investigation had to still be open at the time of his promotion. There are prior articles that Antioch hired an independent investigator to analyze all the facts and they concluded he met their hiring standards. Sounds like SFPD’s loss.

  10. The experiment of giving criminals what they want and punishing police for not smiling has failed miserably here in San Francisco. Chesea Boudin has increased crime in this city to incredible amounts.

    every day in front of my office cars are broken into multiple times a day. They don’t even wait anymore for the tourist to exit the vehicle they just punch them and steal their stuff. At Walgreens last week I got punched for asking what’s going on when a criminal was doing their morning shopping filling up and walking out. The police say they can do nothing. If they rest them they will just be out on the street a few hours later and the policw risk being arrested for it

    It has become a sad situation here in San Francisco. Chelsea Boudin needs to be repealed!!

  11. Because he had time left over after counseling client criminals on a municipal corruption spree, Dennis Herrera repeatedly counseled Commissioners that once an officer resigned, the matter was out of their hands. Counsel declined to advise that the Chief still had the power to issue discipline.

    Why is Dennis Herrera still a thing?

  12. Here’s an idea. I call it the 7/11 Plan. They do their time from 7am to 11pm.

    They sit in a large booth outfitted with a toilet with a lid and a
    small tabletop they can eat their meals on and they have a little
    water fountain/sink.

    They stay inside that box from 7 o’clock in the morning until 11
    o’clock at night. During those hours the American Commoners and their
    children can go about their lives without having to fear these
    individuals.

    And they are NOT in solitary confinement. They are surrounded by other criminals. They can see and hear each other.

    At 11pm the prisoners are released. By the time they get out most of
    the good people of this world will be back home, safe and sound with
    their children sleeping in their beds.

    For the bad guy it’s a short stint but it will be breath of freedom
    for the rest of us.

  13. C’mon face it, you would do the same thing. Fire me? F-you… I quit. This way you don’t get a mark on your record and you can get a new job. So long Suckers!

  14. You’ve all got cops under your microscopes, many of you vilify them all, and it’s getting to the point where it is beyond a thankless job and on one wants to do it. Congrats, You’ve nearly driven our entire police force out. All the while liberals think that means some sort of paradise while the daily killings of African Americans at the hands of each other branches further out.. and further… and the day YOU are personally affected there will no one to help. Good sheep, destroying your own country

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