Legal aid groups: SFPD violated city law barring certain cooperation with FBI

The San Francisco Police Department may be blocking an investigation into allegations that an officer violated city law while working with a federal anti-terror agent, according to a letter sent to Chief Greg Suhr this week.

The letter, written by a group of legal aid law firms, says they have evidence that the police department has broken city law which bars police from contacting residents who are deemed suspicious by federal authorities.

As part of the 2012 Safe San Francisco Civil Rights Ordinance — inspired by documents that showed the FBI had been illegally spying on Muslims in the Bay Area with the aid of police — the department is required to report annually on its activity with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and is not allowed in most cases to participate in federal investigations into constitutionally protected acts.

“Overall we are extremely concerned that the ordinance has been violated and continues to be violated despite the report’s assurances to the contrary,” said the letter from the Asian Law Caucus, Council on American-Islamic relations and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

The letter indicated that Executive Director of the Office of Citizen Complaints Joyce Hicks said last week that the OCC was seeking advice on its “ability to interview the officer.”

“This strongly suggests that someone — SFPD or the FBI — denied access to the officer, thereby clearly playing SFPD in position of policy violation,” said the letter.

OCC had no comment on the issue as it pertains to an open investigation.

The department said in its annual report it could not comment on the OCC investigation since it was ongoing. But it did divulge some details about its activity with the JTTF: one officer works with the JTTF and there were 35 cases handled over the past year, but no city laws or police department rules have been violated.

But a specific case castes the both department guarantees into question, noted the letter.
The case in question involves Sarmad Gilani, a 29-year-old software engineer from Normal, Ill., who moved to San Francisco two years ago to work for Google. In 2014, some unusual visitors called on him at his downtown offices: a police officer and a federal official.

Gilani claims he has done nothing wrong and no one will tell him why he was under suspicion.
The two men came to Gilani’s office unannounced June 4 and said they were following up on Gilani’s Freedom of Information Act request. His lawyer, Brice Hamack with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had filed the request earlier in the year to find out why Gilani had so much trouble whenever he traveled.

Gilani, who is Muslim, said the questions had little to do with the FOIA request. Instead, the 15-minute interaction centered on Gilani’s travels to Pakistan, where his parents are from.
“Some people have delusions about being oppressed,” Gilani said the federal agent told him. He added that the official also said, “I am not here because you’re Muslim.”

Then the San Francisco police officer, who has not been identified, spoke up to tell Gilani that they believed U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released last year after being held captive in Afghanistan, was being held captive in Pakistan.


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