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City spends nearly $1.5 million defending police Chief Suhr in whistleblower case

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Police Chief Greg Suhr. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco spent nearly $1.5 million defending police Chief Greg Suhr in a whistleblower lawsuit that alleged Suhr had a record of skirting the law, which he has denied.

The $1,479,883 price tag included the settlement paid to former police department employee Kelly O’Haire plus the 3,030 hours spent on the case by city attorneys, according to records obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

O’Haire and her lawyers were paid $725,000 Aug. 14 as part of the settlement. The settlement, which mandated the suit be dropped, also included language saying “neither party will disparage the other (including making unflattering remarks or portraying the other in a negative light).”

O’Haire also agreed to hand over all documents she still had related to personnel matters at the San Francisco Police Department.

Suhr, the highest paid major city police chief in the country, made a total of $326,715 in 2014.

O’Haire’s lawsuit claimed she was fired in 2011 by Suhr in retaliation for her investigation into his alleged record of misconduct. At the time O’Haire, a former police officer, was working for the police department as a lawyer looking into police misconduct cases.

Her lawsuit was filed in 2014 and included revealing snippets from a deposition by District Attorney George Gascon in which he said he told Mayor Ed Lee that O’Haire was unfairly fired, and the mayor did nothing.

Lee said he does not recall such a conversation taking place.

The suit also revealed much of Suhr’s disciplinary record, including an instance where he allegedly lied to the FBI for a security clearance, among other things.

O’Haire’s lawsuit stems from the investigation of a 2009 disciplinary case of Suhr’s that alleged he mishandled the response to a domestic violence incident involving a friend. He allegedly failed to act according to department rules, did not arrest the suspect, and failed to file a police report.

Suhr allegedly responded to the incident in his police car, failed to check to see if a restraining order had been filed, and told the victim to keep his name out of the police report when she filed one. Suhr drove the victim home, and later she said he saved her life, according to Police Department documents. The suspect was eventually convicted of attempted murder.

Subsequently, under then-police Chief Heather Fong, O’Haire investigated the incident and uncovered additional alleged wrongdoing in Suhr’s past, and a “pattern of skirting the law with violations that included failing to make a report and lying to the FBI to get top secret security clearance.”

During prosecution of the discipline case before the Police Commission, O’Haire was “threatened numerous times by Suhr’s attorneys and POA representatives, who allegedly said Suhr would fire her if he ever became chief,” according to filings in the lawsuit.

O’Haire was fired soon after Suhr was appointed chief by Lee. Suhr and The City contend she was fired because the department had a major deficit during the recession and had to get rid of staff.

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  • websamurai

    SF should no longer defend the indefensible. An outsider needs to replace him, with no ties to the POA, in order to clean house and reform this antiquated department. Other major cities have done it, why not SF? The mayor also is useless and needs to be recalled.

  • jhayes362

    I expect the high defense tab had something to do with the 2015 elections. They didn’t want Suhr on the stand while a shakey Ed Lee was trying to defend a conservative board majority and his own office.

    The question in my mind is why the City Attorney went along. Why not go ahead and try the case? Maybe they thought a settlement would be cheaper, in which case it’s probably good lawyering.

    Kind of shocking that Suhr is highest paid major city police chief in the country. I wonder how that happened?

  • R94110

    LOL, you want a cop with no ties with the POA?

    Wait, can I insist on non-union Muni riders and janitors as well? woo hoo

  • R94110

    Lee cruised to an easy win. You need another theory.

    The City Attorney’s office are crappy litigators. It’s not that well paid. They always settle to avoid trial.

    SF Muni operators are also the highest paid in the nation. Problem?

  • jhayes362

    Lee won $am, but not by the landslide you predicted. If he had faced anything other than unknown competitors he would have been in trouble.

    I don’t know what Muni operators make $am. Perhaps you can tell me what their average salaries are and also what average salaries are for the second highest paid municipal transportation operators.

    Back on topic, why should Greg Suhr be highest paid municipal police chief in the country? How did he get this sweet deal?

    As for city attorney, if they settled to avoid greater city exposure, it was probably a smart move.

  • websamurai

    Outsider, not from SF and does not even have to be a cop, just someone in law enforcement. It has been done elsewhere.