Police have long used master keys at residential hotels to enter rooms on raids and warrant checks, but now one San Francisco official is calling for an end to the practice.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi has asked police to change the department’s policy on using those keys, saying it puts residents’ constitutional rights at risk and leaves hotel employees at risk as well.
The request is in response to allegations that eight officers illegally searched residential hotel rooms and lied about those searches in police reports. The FBI, SFPD and District Attorney’s Office are currently investigating those allegations, and close to 60 drug and robbery cases have been dismissed in the aftermath.
Those allegations are buttressed by surveillance video from several incidents released by Adachi, including one video that shows four officers entering a room with a master key without knocking or identifying themselves, as required by law.
“For the security and protection of all San Franciscans, I urge you to adopt a strong policy against the use of hotel master keys, so that tenants and guests can rest secure in their homes — whether that be an expensive ocean view apartment or the hotels here, in less expensive zip codes,” Adachi wrote in a letter to police Chief Jeff Godown and District Attorney George Gascón.
In response to the allegations, the Police Department is looking at all the policies involving plainclothes units, said SFPD spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield. That might include whether police are appropriately using what he called passkeys.
“There are definitely reasons to use a passkey, especially in matters of life or death,” Dangerfield said.
The investigation has led others to come forward with allegations — even one residential hotel owner who said he was pushed by an officer who demanded access to a master key.
Virgilio Candari owns the Luz Hotel at 725 Geary St. On Jan. 22, Officer Kevin Byrne went to the hotel to check the rooms of some of the tenants when he pushed Candari, according to Candari and his lawyer, Michael McCloskey.
“I have a very high regard for the police,” Candari said. “Every time they come here, I would let them inside the office. It’s like they have carte blanche. But then he roughed me up like that for nothing.”
Byrne is not one of the eight officers who have so far been implicated in the misconduct investigation.
The District Attorney’s Office also received Adachi’s letter, but a spokeswoman declined to comment.