Wrecking ball to fulfill outgoing San Francisco sheriff’s dream

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Resolution: Outgoing Sheriff Michael Hennessey will kick off the demolition of San Francisco County Jail No. 3 today.
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It will be his last act as a San Francisco official, but it also could be the single most viscerally pleasing deed in the long career of Michael Hennessey.

The outgoing sheriff, who is retiring after 32 years on the job, will christen a wrecking ball today before it takes the first swipe at the infamous San Francisco County Jail No. 3.

Hennessey first saw the jail’s deplorable conditions as a young attorney working with prisoners, and he made demolition of the facility a priority in his first-ever campaign for sheriff in 1979.

Built in 1934, the jail was owned by San Francisco but located in San Bruno. In 1999, a lawsuit settlement required construction of a new jail — County Jail No. 5 — which now exists on the site.

The last prisoner wasn’t moved out of “CJ3” until 2006, and Hennessey said the closure didn’t come easy.

“Never did I realize that getting it done would take years of bureaucratic wrangling, a federal class action lawsuit, two failed bond measures and a U.S. District Court judge declaring the conditions so bad that they violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment,” Hennessey said in a statement.

In 1989, an 18-year-old cross-country traveler — caught with a duffel bag of marijuana he gathered from a roadside — was brutally raped while he was detained at the jail, which drew attention to the deteriorating and overcrowded conditions there.

The demolition will symbolize Hennessey’s legacy as a law enforcement reformer who opted for rehabilitation over pure punishment for criminals. He will christen the wrecking ball with sparkling cider — because alcoholic beverages are prohibited on jail grounds.

“Now, finally, five years after the last prisoner was transferred out of County Jail No. 3, we will see the end of it,” Hennessey said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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