Friday, February 28, 2014
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Four San Francisco police officers pleaded not guilty Friday after being indicted by federal grand juries.
A total of six current and former officers were charged in two separate indictments, with three accused of taking money, drugs, electronics and gift cards seized during investigations.
Among the items taken during a 2009 arrest was a $500 Apple gift card, an indictment states. Two days later, former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert used the card to buy an iPhone and iPod Nano, prosecutors said Thursday
The other suspects in the thefts are Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill and Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville.
Marijuana was taken in another 2009 incident, according to the indictment that accuses Vargas of delivering the pot to two informants and asking them to sell it and split the proceeds with him, Furminger and Robles.
All the indicted officers have been suspended without pay and had their guns taken away, Police Chief Greg Suhr said shortly after the indictments were announced.
"Our department is shaken. This is as serious as an issue as I can recall in my time in the department," said an emotional Suhr, who has been with the department since 1981.
Suhr said federal authorities assured him the arrests did not reflect a systemic problem in the department.
Furminger, Robles and Vargas each face counts of drug conspiracy and drug distribution that each carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. They also face a charge of civil rights conspiracy that carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine, and a federal program theft charge.
Vargas pleaded not guilty Thursday and was released on $50,000 bond. Furminger pleaded not guilty on Friday. Robles also appeared in court but needed an attorney and did not enter a plea.
In a separate indictment, three other defendants were charged with civil rights violations that prosecutors said involve illegally entering hotel rooms and intimidating occupants.
The charges were based on surveillance footage from a hotel in the Tenderloin neighborhood that was released by the city's public defender, Jeff Adachi, in 2011. Adachi claimed the videos of plainclothes officers contradicted police reports and sworn police testimony.
Officer Arshad Razzak, 41, and Officer Richard Yick, 37, both of San Francisco; and Officer Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo each face three civil rights charges that carry possible penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. They pleaded not guilty on Friday.
The indictment did not provide additional details about the searches.
However, a civil lawsuit filed by three occupants of Hotel Henry in 2012 claimed Razzak, Elias, and three other officers got the hotel's master key and forced their way into rooms without a search warrant or the occupants' consent on two separate occasions. They searched the occupants and the room then made drug arrests, the lawsuit states.
A judge concluded that video evidence contradicted the officers' testimony, and criminal charges against the defendants were dismissed, the suit says.
The defendants sued the arresting officers and police department. The Board of Supervisors approved a $150,000 settlement in December.
In the current case, Razzak and Yick have also been charged with falsifying police reports.
None of the defendants in either indictment could be reached for comment.
Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said in a statement that the indictments were apparently based on the questionable testimony of unreliable informant witnesses.
"However, we do understand that these are nonetheless serious charges," Halloran said. "It is important to remember that the accused officers will have their day in court since federal grand juries only hear one side of the story."
Adachi said his clients had for years reported that their rights were being violated.
"I commend the U.S. attorney for taking seriously the reports from ordinary citizens who had been humiliated, stolen from and hurt by police officers sworn to protect them," he said in a statement.
One of the videos Adachi released in 2011 shows two officers walking into a residential hotel empty-handed and leaving with bags that Adachi said weren't booked into evidence.
Allegations stemming from the released videos led to the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.
The charges came after San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon referred the investigation to federal authorities, citing a conflict of interest. Gascon was the police chief at the time the alleged conduct occurred.
"I am relieved to know that the officers have been indicted, after I referred the matter to federal authorities," Gascon said in a statement. "It is extremely disappointing that the officers violated the trust of the community and tarnished the reputation of all the hard-working men and women in uniform."
Associated Press writer Channing Joseph contributed to this report.