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Father and Son at Center of San Francisco Police Storm

Alex Fagan's dynamic personality helped him rise to the top; younger Fagan was often volatile.

March 17, 2003|Rone Tempest, John M. Glionna and Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writers

SAN FRANCISCO — The police lieutenant's home phone rang about 3 a.m. A desk sergeant was on the line, and the news wasn't good. There was "a problem," the sergeant reported, "with Fagan's kid."

Thus began the story of a father and son -- two cops from this city's old school -- who are now at the heart of a crisis in the San Francisco Police Department.

The father, Alex Emanuel Fagan, 52, is a charming survivor who got into a couple of messy, off-duty scrapes that might have stalled other men's careers. Instead, with Chief Prentice Earl Sanders on medical leave, Assistant Chief Fagan is running the department.

The son, Alex Eric Fagan, 23, is a handsome former high school track star and triathlete who was in trouble from almost the moment he pinned on a badge. He faces felony charges stemming from a November street brawl that has rocked this city and plunged the Police Department into turmoil.

Charges were dismissed last week against the elder Fagan and Sanders, but five police commanders face charges of conspiracy to cover up the brawl, and three street cops face an array of assault and battery charges.

In the tight-knit world of a big city police force, the Fagans were royalty. They were Irish and had the look of cops. They had a straight, strong bearing and good manners, continuing a tradition where sons follow in their fathers' footsteps.

The Fagans differed, though, in one very important way. While the father kept his troubles off-duty, the son took them to work.

In just over a year, the rookie patrolman ran up such a serious string of clashes with residents that his supervisor extended his probation and assigned him to anger management classes.

Sgt. Vickie Stansberry reported in September that other patrol officers had refused to ride with the younger Fagan, citing an array of complaints: "driving too fast, driving through stop signs without stopping or slowing, use of force, unprofessional treatment of suspects, poking his finger in suspects' chests, yelling in suspects' faces, talking down to suspects."

In one incident, Fagan allegedly kicked a suspect and had to be ordered by other cops to move away. Stansberry said the young officer later confessed his frustrations, saying that he was in no mood to show leniency toward a medical marijuana user who was growing dozens of cannabis plants.

"If this were the '70s," she quoted Fagan as saying, "I could have kicked that guy's ass and sent him on his way like he deserved. I have a problem with authority."

But even those incidents didn't necessarily make Alex Eric Fagan anything special. He was just a young cop with a string of excessive force complaints. That was before Nov. 20, 2002.

After a promotion party for his father, the younger Fagan and a couple of pals -- all out of uniform and off-duty -- came across two strangers outside a San Francisco bar. The cops demanded a bag of steak fajitas from one of the men. The brawl that followed got Fagan arrested and cast a fierce public spotlight on his father and the rest of the 2,250-member police force.

On Feb. 27, a San Francisco grand jury indicted Police Chief Sanders, Assistant Chief Fagan and five other police commanders for allegedly covering up the brawl.

The charges against Sanders and the elder Fagan were dropped Wednesday after Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan conceded that there was not enough evidence to convict them.

Fagan insists that his son's case won't undermine his ability to run the department. But he says the events have hurt so much that he can no longer watch TV or read the newspapers.

"For me, the hardest thing was the realization from the very start that I had to absolutely stay out of it," he said of the beating case. "I couldn't even talk to my son about the incident. Think of a parent's role in aiding their child, and you know you've been eliminated from that role."

The scrutiny only promises to grow: the father running a police department dogged by scandal; the son facing felony assault and battery charges.

Over a 31-year police career, the elder Fagan has had his own off-duty problems.

In 1990, he was arrested in San Mateo County after he allegedly grabbed a California Highway Patrol officer and threatened another officer who were responding to a report of a roadside argument between Fagan and a female companion. Although Fagan was never charged in the case, the San Francisco Police Commission suspended him for 15 days and assigned him to an 18-month alcohol treatment program.

In September 2000, following an afternoon Giants game at PacBell Park, the elder Fagan slammed his police-issue Crown Victoria into a parked car and quickly departed the scene, leaving his teenage daughter behind, according to news accounts. Uniformed officers later arrived to pick up the stranded daughter. Fagan said he exchanged information with the other driver, as required. Again, Fagan was not charged.

But after an investigation by Internal Affairs, he served a month without pay.

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