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New system in the works to hold SF deputies accountable for misconduct

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Supervisor Shamann Walton speaks during a Board of Supervisors hearing on the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department at City Hall on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A San Francisco supervisor wants to create an independent system for holding deputies accused of misconduct accountable after the Sheriff’s Department botched a criminal investigation into its own staff.

Supervisor Shamann Walton on Tuesday asked the City Attorney’s Office to draft legislation that would expand oversight of the department.

Last month, prosecutors dismissed charges against three deputies accused of forcing inmates to fight like gladiators because the Sheriff’s Department tainted evidence in the high-profile case. Meanwhile, new allegations surfaced that deputies beat and improperly strip searched inmates.

While details of the legislation have not been fleshed out, the proposal may require the Department of Police Accountability and the District Attorney’s Office to investigate certain allegations of deputy misconduct.

The legislation could also create a commission, committee or task force to impose discipline on deputies in cases where allegations of misconduct have been sustained, Walton said at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

“We cannot sit idly by and let this continue to happen,” Walton said. “You do not lose your humanity strictly because you are incarcerated.”

The Sheriff’s Department typically conducts its own administrative and criminal investigations into misconduct claims.

Also at present, Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has final say over whether to impose discipline if administrative allegations are sustained.

Part of the reason prosecutors dismissed the charges last month was because the department’s criminal investigators improperly used a compelled statement from the administrative investigation to build their case.

Defense attorneys also claimed that the department destroyed evidence in the case when it used a hammer to smash a laptop, although Hennessy has since claimed that the hard drive might still exist.

Amid calls for more oversight from Walton and the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Hennessy decided last month to hand over 21 internal investigations into allegations of misconduct to DPA.

The sheriff began the investigations Dec. 2 into allegations of deputies abusing inmates, and female inmates being forced to strip in front of male deputies. Hennessy heard of the allegations from staff and Adachi.

Hennessy views handing over the cases as the beginning of a new partnership in which DPA investigates citizen complaints against deputies and returns findings as well as policy recommendations.

Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for the sheriff, said Hennessy plans to finish handing over the cases to the DPA by the end of the week.

“She is committed to a procedure for continuing independent investigations for citizen and inmate complaints and working collaboratively with all the affected justice partners to define a solution,” Crowley said.

Hennessy previously said she would not support the creation of a new oversight body, however, to decide on discipline.

Walton is working with Supervisor Matt Haney to introduce the legislation.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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