Conduct case tests Police Commission

A seven-year-old police misconduct charge came to a close Wednesday with a nine-month suspension, testing both the Police Commission’s resolve to decrease its caseload and the Police Department’s new policy on police officers’ reliability in court.

The case stems from a 2003 incident in the Mission district. Officer Lionel Sevilla, who was a 13-year veteran at the time, detained a man who turned out to have a $5,000 warrant for his arrest and was a person of interest in a felony case.

When the suspect asked to go to the bathroom, Sevilla allowed him to go into a nearby restaurant. About five minutes later, a restaurant employee checked the bathroom and the suspect was gone.

According to a complaint that went public after charges were filed in 2004, Sevilla lost the suspect after a 15-minute search, and then told his rookie partner to falsify a police report.

“All you have to do is write it like he [the suspect] was not here, that he was not on the scene,” Sevilla told him.

Sevilla was served with five different charges and has been working a desk job in the records room of the Police Department ever since. The Police Commission sustained those charges and could have terminated Sevilla, but instead went with the nine-month suspension.

Sevilla’s lawyer did not return calls for comment on the case. Police Officers Association Vice President Kevin Martin would not comment on the punishment, but said the union was “glad the case is over after the better part of six years.”

With the closure of Sevilla’s case, the Police Commission no longer has cases that date back more than two years, according to Commission President Joseph Marshall.

“This particular case is symbolic of something we never want to happen again,” Marshall said.

The question of Sevilla’s credibility also tests the Police Department’s new policy on providing information to defense lawyers that could discredit witnesses. Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Sevilla’s case brings up exactly the kind of issues that would be relevant to the believability of a witness.

“This will certainly be a test for the Police Department and the Police Commission,” Adachi said. “It appears that this officer engaged in dishonest behavior, and in a case where an officer is a witness, credibility is always an issue.”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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