Two undercover police officers working the South of Market area in late 2010 and 2011 conspired to violate the rights of residents in single-occupancy-room hotels and tried to hide their tracks, according to prosecutors in a federal corruption trail that began Monday.
“This is a case that forces us to confront dishonest conduct by police officers, something that is hard because we rely — our criminal justice system relies on trust and confidence that police officers tell the truth,” federal prosecutor John Hemann's opening statement began. “This is a case about the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
Officers Arshad Razzak and Richard Yick, who were part of a plainclothes investigation team at the Southern Police Station, stand accused of conspiring to illegally search a single-room-occupancy hotel on Dec. 23, 2010, and then falsify records of their conduct there. A third officer accused of similar charges will have a separate trial.
The officers' trial, the second of two police corruption cases in recent months, stemmed from the 2011 release by the Public Defender's Office of video footage allegedly revealing illegal searches of SRO hotels in the Mission and Tenderloin and on Sixth Street by several undercover teams.
Tuesday's proceeding in federal Judge Richard Seeborg's courtroom centered on that 2010 incident and included testimony from another police officer at the scene, as well as a former prostitute and heroin addict whose room was allegedly searched without consent or a warrant.
The incident's details were roughly described in the original police reports as follows:
After getting a tip on Dec. 23 that there was a large amount of heroin in Room 504 at the Henry Hotel on Sixth Street, Razzak and his team of four officers headed to the hotel around 7:15 p.m. Once inside they knocked on Room 504's door and announced their presence before being given permission by Jessica Richmond, the room's resident, to search the room for the drugs.
But prosecutors argue that events transpired differently.
“If this were the normal course of affairs, this would have been the routine drug prosecution,” Hemann said in his opening statement Monday. “Unfortunately, in this case, that assumption was false. We know that it's false because an investigator from the San Francisco Public Defender's Office … went to the Henry Hotel and found a surveillance video, one of the security videos in the Henry Hotel. That video shows something very different than what Mr. Razzak's report said. The video shows — the video proves that the report that Mr. Razzak wrote was false.”
That video, along with testimony from Richmond on Tuesday, shows there was no knock or announcements. Instead, an officer used a master key to enter the room without knocking or notifying anyone they were police.
Richmond testified in a deposition shown to the court that no one knocked and no one announced that police were outside her door before they barged in, drew their guns and demanded money and drugs.
“Up until this point,” she continued, referring to a talk she had with Razzak after police had already come inside her hypodermic-strewn room, “I actually did not know they are police officers.”
It was only after police had entered the room that Richmond signed a consent to search form, she said in her recorded testimony.
The defense attorneys, meanwhile, argue that there is little evidence that any alleged conspiracy occurred and that all the prosecutors have is evidence that the police reports written about Dec. 23 differ from the video evidence and testimony.
“The bottom line is that there is no conspiracy to violate anyone's constitutional rights. A conspiracy in this case would mean they had an agreement to violate civil rights,” said Razzak's attorney, Michael Rains.
The case is set to resume at 8:30 a.m. today.