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S.F. Chief Says D.A. Was Invited to Direct Probe

In a brief filed with the state attorney general, police leader says he met with prosecutor twice.

March 06, 2003|Tim Reiterman and John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — The month before he was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice, Police Chief Earl Sanders says he invited Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan to take over the investigation into a street brawl involving three off-duty officers if the city's top prosecutor feared there was a cover-up.

During a meeting at a hotel coffee shop Jan. 13, Sanders said, he asked Hallinan why his office had not decided whether to prosecute the three young patrolmen, even though the Police Department had submitted its investigative report three weeks earlier.

"Terence, we have all these allegations in the press about the investigation," Sanders recounted in a brief filed with state Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer. "If you think or feel there is any merit to these speculations, have your people do the investigation. I've worked with D.A.'s investigators on police shootings and they're very competent."

The documents obtained by The Times for the first time relate the chief's view of a scandal that has embarrassed the 2,300-member force and captivated this city. According to the 17-page brief, the chief recalled Hallinan's saying that his investigators were "too busy" to take on the beating investigating. "They're doing grant work," the district attorney reportedly added.

Six weeks after that reported meeting, Sanders was indicted by a San Francisco County grand jury on charges of obstructing the investigation into the alleged beating. The panel brought obstruction of justice charges against six other police commanders and various assault and battery charges against the three patrolmen allegedly involved in the brawl.

The 17-page brief that the police chief sent to Lockyer's office foreshadows Sanders' probable defense on the allegations that he and the other commanders conspired to protect the officers, including the 23-year-old son of Assistant Chief Alex Fagan Sr.

Hallinan has assured city residents that once the grand jury transcripts are made public, the seriousness of the case will become clear. His spokesman on Wednesday could not confirm that the meetings with the police chief took place. "Because of the gravity of the situation, I don't think we're going to comment," said spokesman Mark MacNamara.

Legal experts say that the meetings between the district attorney and police chief potentially could make Hallinan a witness in the case. But some said that Hallinan is not so entangled that the entire district attorney's office must be disqualified from the prosecution.

Sanders' attorney Philip Ryan said that, at Hallinan's request, the chief met alone with the district attorney on two occasions in December and January, when furor over the case was building.

Hallinan, he predicted, could find himself in the position of confirming that the chief was going out of his way to cooperate with the very investigation Hallinan's office now accuses the chief of obstructing.

"I will tell you the first witness for the defense is Terence Hallinan," Ryan said. "He had conversations with the chief ... [which] establish that the only person [Sanders] was conspiring with is the D.A., to get his investigators to look into whatever they want to."

On Monday, the day before he was arraigned in Superior Court, Sanders announced that he was taking medical leave and handed over the department's reins to former Deputy Chief Heather Fong.

Six other indicted commanders have temporarily stepped down without pay.

Sanders has requested that Lockyer intervene in the case. Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for the attorney general, said Wednesday that his office hoped to respond to the request within 10 days, providing the grand jury transcripts are made available.

The transcripts were released to defense attorneys late Wednesday, but the judge in the case ruled that the documents will be kept under seal from the public for at least another 10 days.

The Sanders brief -- along with a box of documents, newscast videotapes and other materials -- was delivered Friday to Lockyer to support claims that Hallinan abused his discretion in directing the grand jury. The panel indicted Sanders and nine other department members Friday.

Ryan said that Sanders' concerns about the district attorney's investigation predated last week's indictments. More than a month ago, the chief had written a letter of concern to the attorney general's office, but was advised against submitting it by an official in Mayor Willie Brown's office.

The official, Gregg Lowder, the head of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice, declined to comment.

P.J. Johnston, Brown's press secretary, declined to comment on Ryan's assertions, but added that "the mayor said from the outset that he thought this case should have been investigated by the attorney general's office ... so there would be no question about impartiality."

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