The San Francisco police sergeant who allegedly pulled a fire alarm at a police station out of frustration for being denied entry into a meeting on homelessness has been charged with a misdemeanor, prosecutors said Thursday.
Sgt. Maria Teresa Donati allegedly pulled the alarm at the Pacifica police station on Aug. 7 after the city’s police chief refused to let her into the closed-door meeting, according to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
Donati is a 24-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Department who lives in Pacifica and is assigned to the Municipal Transportation Agency unit. Attempts to reach her by phone have not been successful.
“She is in a position of authority and power, particularly being a sergeant,” Wagstaffe said. “A 20-year veteran knows when people are screaming at you, you stay calm, you don’t react. She has that training to be calm and she did not exercise that judgment in this case.”
The San Francisco Examiner first reported on the allegations last Thursday.
Donati was among a group of people who were upset about not being allowed into the task force meeting on homelessness, Wagstaffe said. Like San Francisco, Pacifica has been dealing with an increasing number of people living in RVs.
“Her interest was the City Council not pass a law that would encourage hundreds or more homeless to suddenly come into the town that she lives in,” Wagstaffe said.
Wagstaffe said the task force was not holding a public meeting at the police station when Donati allegedly walked up and loudly knocked on the door. The police chief, Dan Steidle, turned her away.
But instead of just leaving, Wagstaffe said Donati pulled the fire alarm.
“After pulling the alarm she quickly walked out the lobby doors,” Wagstaffe said. “It wasn’t like she stayed around to watch the fire trucks arrive.”
Wagstaffe said the editor and publisher of the Pacifica Tribune happened to have taken a photo of Donati in the lobby before the fire alarm went off. Though witnesses identified her as the woman who pulled the alarm, Wagstaffe said no one knew who she was at the time.
That night, the Pacifica Police Department posted the photograph on Facebook asking for the public’s help identifying the woman. Pacifica police later identified the suspect as Donati.
Wagstaffe said he has not been contacted by an attorney for Donati.
The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, previously told the Examiner that it is not representing Donati in the matter and declined to comment.
Officer Joseph Tomlinson, a San Francisco police spokesperson, referred the Examiner to San Mateo County authorities for comment Thursday.
“We are conducting an administrative investigation,” Tomlinson said.
An SFPD spokesperson previously said Donati had not been reassigned or taken off duty.
Donati has been charged with one misdemeanor count for pulling a false fire alarm.
She is not in custody and a date for her first court appearance has not been set.
The false fire alarm resulted in firefighters rushing to the scene and the building being evacuated, Wagstaffe said.
“She needs to be held accountable for what she did,” Wagstaffe said. “It isn’t like it had no consequences.”