San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon speaks during a press conference at the Hall of Justice on Wednesday, August 19, 2015. (Michael Ares/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Fired investigator claims DA Gascon ‘unlawfully’ carried guns on planes

A former senior investigator fired by District Attorney George Gascon last year claims in a new lawsuit that the top prosecutor of San Francisco has repeatedly carried guns on planes in violation of federal law.

Henry “Hank” McKenzie alleges in the federal lawsuit filed Nov. 24 that the District Attorney’s Office fired him last October in retaliation for blowing the whistle on Gascon “unlawfully traveling while armed for years.”

The lawsuit says federal law “requires peace officers traveling while armed to state they are doing so for good reason under penalty of perjury,” but Gascon “was not an active peace officer and had no need to travel while armed.”

Gascon, a former police chief in San Francisco and Los Angeles, has served as district attorney since 2011. He announced in October that he would not seek re-election next year, citing the ailing health of his mother.

McKenzie, who served as an executive member of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Investigators Association, had discussed reporting the alleged conduct with other members of the union beginning in late 2016.

But McKenzie did not report the allegations to the Transportation Security Administration, according to the lawsuit — an unnamed investigator who had circulated anonymous letters around the office did in Spring 2017.

Still, the lawsuit claims the District Attorney’s Office believed McKenzie was the anonymous investigator and fired him in retaliation.

The lawsuit claims that federal authorities have since launched a criminal investigation into Gascon’s “unlawful travel practices” that is still ongoing.

The TSA did not respond to a request for comment.

McKenzie was among some 14 employees of the investigative department who the lawsuit claims were either terminated or forced to resign after the allegations surfaced. The lawsuit says all of them knew about the allegations.

Last September, Gascon allegedly pressured investigators into keeping quiet during a training at the Lake Merced shooting range.

“Gascon threatened the staff that he perceived there was ‘cancer’ growing in the Bureau of Investigations and he was going to cut it out,” the lawsuit claims.

The next day, McKenzie was told he was under an Internal Affairs investigation and placed on administrative leave.

Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, declined to comment on the case.

“We don’t comment on former employee lawsuits,” Szabo said. “It’s a personnel matter.”

City Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Cote said the lawsuit has “no merit.”

“We intend to vigorously defend against it,” Cote said.

Cote said McKenzie was an at-will employee who was terminated because he misrepresented himself in a reference letter he sent to a federal law enforcement agency on behalf of another employee.

“That reference include false information and purported to be on behalf of the office, even though Mr. McKenzie had no authority to speak for the office on that matter,” Cote said in an email. “That misrepresentation led to his termination. His termination was not for any improper reason.”

In the lawsuit, McKenzie said he represented himself in the reference letter “truthfully and to the best of his knowledge.”

The lawsuit is filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.

Michael Toren contributed to this report.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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