Police drawing heat for Bayview gang-injunction arrest

A Thanksgiving Day arrest in the heart of The City’s first gang-injunction zone has sparked debate among Bayview community members and city officials as to how officers are carrying out the anti-gang court order.

Police say they are protecting innocent people from criminals in an already-dangerous area, while many community members say the injunction has tempted some officers to abuse their power.

On Nov. 22, police entered the home of Joanne Abernathy, a 30-year resident of the Oakdale public-housing complex, to arrest 20-year-old James Powell on three bench warrants and suspicion of violating the gang injunction.

According to the police report, four plainclothes officers were patrolling the area around 1065 Oakdale Ave. in an unmarked car just after 1 p.m. when they saw Powell, who has failed to appear in court for charges of driving unlicensed, possessing crack cocaine with the intent to sell and a previous violation of the Oakdale gang injunction.

When the officers tried to confront him, the report stated, Powell ran to Abernathy’s home on Palou Avenue. One of the gang task force officers, along with a uniformed officer, entered the back door after their knock went unanswered.

According to the report, Abernathy came out of the shower naked and asked for a towel, and an officer obliged her. Once police had arrested Powell and taken him outside, he tried to wrap his leg around the arresting officer to trip him.

But family members in the home that day told the Police Commission a different story, that Abernathy was forced from the shower and told to watch as officers pulled a beanie over Powell’s head and punched him.

Once outside, according to Abernathy’s family, police rammed Powell’s head into a metal pole.

Police spokesman Sgt. Steve Mannina denied the accusations and said police were protecting Abernathy, who filed a restraining order in 2005 against Powell, her nephew. Mannina points to the 16.5-yard stay-away order, which is valid until 2008, as a main reason officers entered Abernathy’s home.

The incident has caused the Police Commission to express concern over how the injunction is enforced. Supervisor Chris Daly is scheduled to hold a discussion on the injunction at a Public Safety Committee hearing today.

Joyce Hicks, the newly appointed director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, said she is investigating the incident with the help of police. “I have given this complaint the highest priority,” she said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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