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S.F. Mayor Angry About Scandal

Willie Brown says he blames himself as well as others for the police controversy.

March 10, 2003|John M. Glionna and Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — Mayor Willie Brown said Sunday that the police scandal that has rocked the city has left him upset with everyone from the district attorney and the police chief to the lieutenant who supervised the department's investigation of the matter.

But perhaps most of all, Brown said, he is disappointed with himself.

In a wide-ranging 90-minute interview at one of his favorite North Beach cafes, Brown predicted that Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan will drop indictments against the city's embattled chief of police and six aides, but will try to continue an investigation into whether the officers conspired to cover up a street fight involving the son of the assistant chief.

"He will cut his losses," Brown said of Hallinan, a political foe. "He will simultaneously leave all these cops in limbo. They will not have been vindicated .... You still won't know what the facts are surrounding their conduct."

The best way to handle the sensitive case would have been for an outside law enforcement agency to probe it from the beginning, Brown said. But he failed to order Police Chief Earl Sanders to turn over the investigation in its earliest days, he said.

"I take full responsibility," he said. "I should have ordered it."

The late-night brawl allegedly began when three off-duty policemen tried to take a bag of takeout fajitas from two civilians. While Brown said there was no police cover-up, he said he would seek reforms that would prevent a repeat of the affair, which has damaged the reputations of police, prosecutors and the city.

"Around the world, people think Ramparts, Serpico and the Riders is what we have in this department, based on some ... street fight," he said, alluding to police corruption scandals in Los Angeles, New York and Oakland. "And it's unfortunate that kind of damage is done. I'll have to live with that."

Brown's prediction that Hallinan would drop the indictments came two days after the district attorney said in an interview with The Times that he would review the evidence over the weekend and would drop charges against the officers if he concluded that there is not enough evidence for a conviction. Before a grand jury indicted the men, Hallinan and a senior prosecutor advised the panel that there was not enough evidence.

Hallinan declined further comment Sunday. A family member said he was reading the 1,300-page grand jury transcript.

Brown said he first learned about the initial brawl from a newspaper article that suggested that the police probe might have been mishandled.

A few days after the incident, he brought up the fight during a routine meeting with Sanders and Assistant Chief Alex Fagan Sr., whom Brown had appointed several months earlier. Fagan's 23-year-old son was one of the officers involved in the fracas.

"Listen, guys," Brown recounted. "I really think you ought to let Oakland or some other department handle this matter. It's never gonna have the same credibility" if handled by the San Francisco Police Department.

But Brown said the officers assured him: "Mr. mayor, we wouldn't be doing our job. This is a routine matter on the streets. We're doing it."

In hindsight, Brown said, "they should have done what I ... said."

Sanders has since taken a medical leave. And Fagan, along with five other supervisors, has stepped down temporarily without pay. The command officers have pleaded not guilty, as have the three patrolmen involved in the brawl.

Through much of the investigation into the police handling of the case, Brown and Hallinan have sparred publicly. Brown said he and the chief were frustrated that Hallinan did not wrap up the inquiry after the chief provided a report Dec. 11.

"Hallinan kept saying, 'I want more. I want more. I want more.' " Brown said. "Sanders kept saying, 'We have given you everything we have ... and we aren't putting any more time into this, any more money into this.' And from that point it became a war of words."

Brown downplayed any political motives by Hallinan, a fellow liberal who is seeking reelection in November. Instead, he attributed the pursuit of the cover-up investigation to Hallinan's "natural displeasure of police .... He is not a law enforcement person. He never was. And he never will be."

The mayor said Hallinan now had to lead "the repair and the restoration" of the damaged relationship between police and prosecutors. "You cannot have the Police Department and the D.A. not on the same playing bench," he said.

The mayor said the scandal has highlighted at least two areas that need reform.

He said he has asked the Police Commission to require all criminal investigations involving department officers to be referred to an outside law enforcement agency.

One of the officers indicted in the brawl, Alex Fagan Jr., remains on extended probation and has been the subject of several lawsuits.

Brown said the department has been tracking problem officers, especially those involved in violent behavior.

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