District Attorney Brooke Jenkins addresses community members in the Mission District of San Francisco. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Exonerated man is suing San Francisco 

Joaquin Ciria, the first and only man to have been exonerated by the District Attorney’s Innocence Commission, is suing the city that put him behind bars for 32 years. 

On Tuesday, Ciria’s lawyers filed a Section 1983 federal lawsuit alleging the government violated Ciria’s civil rights. 

The lawsuit demands a jury trial, and outlines in 173 numbered points how Ciria’s rights were violated. These include allegations that San Francisco police inspectors Arthur Gerrans and James Crowley pressured a key witness to identify Ciria as the killer, that Ciria did not match witness descriptions of the killer, and that Ciria’s defense attorney failed to bring forward alibi witnesses on his behalf.

Gerrans and Crowley were also implicated in the wrongful conviction of Maurice Caldwell, who spent more than 20 years imprisoned for a murder someone else later confessed to. 

“The star witness in that case, like [in Ciria’s case], received various rewards for her testimony, including cash, employment, and a vacation,” read the lawsuit filed by Ciria’s attorneys. “Like Ciria, Caldwell’s sentence was vacated and he was released from prison.” 

Ciria’s conviction was overturned in April, after his pro bono lawyers and, eventually, the DA’s Innocence Commission re-investigated his case. He was originally jailed in 1990, and was convicted of murder in 1991. 

“Mr. Ciria is not just seeking justice for the egregious violation of his civil rights that he suffered, but also to hold the City and County of San Francisco accountable and responsible for its misconduct and to deter its recurrence,” read a statement from Jim Bennett and George Harris, Ciria’s attorneys. “Shockingly, his was not the only case in which this happened in the early 1990s.” 

Sheriff oversight board split over recruitment of Inspector General

San Francisco’s sheriff’s oversight board voted on Friday evening to reject a proposal to use a national recruiting firm to hire its inspector general. 

After meeting on the issue for a few months, President Jayson Wechter made a motion to have the Department of Human Resources contract with Bob Murray & Associates, a firm the city works with, to seek and hire the future head of a new Sheriff’s Department of Accountability. 

But his fellow commissioners blocked the move, and it failed in a 3-2 vote. 

Commissioner Julie Soo has led the opposition to using a recruiter since the new commission launched late this summer, citing the $60,000 cost and, more recently, the fact that only the proposal from Bob Murray & Associates was submitted. 

Soo’s colleague, Xóchitl Carrión, suggested that Wechter’s membership in the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement would suffice to reach candidates with expertise.  

Shawn Sherburne, from Human Resources, urged the board at Friday’s meeting to go with the firm, saying that his department didn’t have the bandwidth to conduct an extensive search. Sherburne said it is common to receive only one proposal; other commissions and city departments he has worked with often contract the sole bidder. 

“I would argue that’s an extremely important piece for a new board that’s standing up, that there be that attention, that engagement that you would give from an executive search firm,” urged Sherburne, to no avail. 

Two longtime Bay Area figures in law enforcement oversight, Barbara Attard and John Alden, also called in during public comment to urge the commission to use a recruiter, saying they draw more diverse and serious applicants than simple advertising through the city could bring in. 

But in the end, Soo, Carrión, and Michael Nguyen voted against the motion. Commissioner DJ Brookter was absent from Friday’s meeting, and Commissioner William Palmer did not appear, meaning the motion only got two votes and failed to pass. 

DA Jenkins re-assessing five-strike drug offense policy

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said on Thursday at a Mission District community meeting that she plans to reassess the policy that allows people to rack up five citations for drugs before the DA’s office becomes involved.  

Jenkins said she has been “shocked” by the number of residents who have told her that five chances is too many. “San Francisco is changing,” she said, to murmurs of affirmation from the audience, who met in a children’s classroom at La Scuola International School. 

So far, Jenkins said about 25 people have gotten two strikes, and around 10 have gotten three, but she did not specify how many have reached four. 

None have hit the limit of five, at which point the DA’s office will intervene, potentially sending the offender to one of the city’s collaborative courts for supervised treatment.  

Pushback against ‘Robocop’ ordinance

On Monday morning, three city supervisors, the ACLU of Northern California, and other outraged San Francisco activists and residents gathered at City Hall in protest against a new policy codifying the SFPD’s right to exact lethal force via robots

The policy was approved last week by the Board of Supervisors, in an 8-3 vote, and the final vote on this policy will be held at Tuesday’s board meeting.  

In case you missed it: New police policies

The Police Commission on Friday released a new draft policy on how the SFPD may approach traffic enforcement moving forward; the new policy will prohibit officers from pulling over drivers for certain low-level infractions. 

The intent is to limit what are referred to as pretext stops, a common practice where officers use a minor violation as an excuse to fish for more serious criminal activity. These stops tend to be racially biased, have a low success rate, and draw police resources away from enforcement of dangerous moving violations. 

Police, however, say they depend on pretext stops to stop crime, even though data shows they don’t often turn up any illegal activity: Captain Gavin McEachern, in his monthly Mission Station update on Tuesday, pointed to two “notable” firearm arrests that began with traffic stops in November. 

Feedback from the department, reform advocates, and community members was taken into account in preparing the latest draft policy. On Wednesday, the commission will discuss the document ahead of a vote later this month; tune in, it’s sure to be an engaging conversation. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. 5 strikes? Why is that a deterrent? By that time you have been complicit in their drug use and why would a drug user think the 6th time is ‘really’ going to be the time when there are consequences?
    It is similar to a parent who gives a kid 4 chances to not do something again or there will be consequences, the kid isn’t going to take you seriously that ‘the 5th time” they will finally have consequences.

  2. Did the police arrest any violent criminal vs how many did they kill and harm from these pretext stops, which is more like a police harassing drivers. Instead of real investigations.