Hundreds of cases investigated by the Police Department could potentially be dismissed because 75 active and 20 former employees have misconduct issues that might impugn the credibility of their past testimonies.
A six-month investigation stemming from revelations of improper management at the SFPD’s crime lab revealed that more than 3 percent of the department’s roughly 2,260 employees should have been required to disclose past wrongdoings whenever they were called to court.
Some of the officers’ offenses occurred several decades ago, which could conceivably affect any of the thousands of convictions they were collectively involved with in the years since.
“This is going to necessitate a review of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases,” said Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who blamed the situation on the failure of the District Attorney’s Office to disclose such conduct to defense attorneys.
However, District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Erica Derryck said it is too early to estimate how many cases might be in jeopardy, dismissing Adachi’s comments as “irresponsible hyperbole.”
An officer’s past misconduct would have to be severe and relevant to a court case to justify reopening a trial, criminal defense lawyer Harjot Walia said.
“If it’s based on something that the officer did in their earlier years, I’m not sure how successful it can be,” Walia said.
The offenses that earned the current and former department employees a place on the list included shoplifting and assaulting a police officer. But while the vast majority of the offenses were considered light, nine of the 75 active employees were withdrawn from interaction with the public due to their misconduct, police Chief George Gascón said.
Gascón initiated the investigation after retired lab technician Deborah Madden admitted to stealing drugs she was supposed to be testing. Tainted evidence from those cases and the subsequent closure of the crime lab ultimately led to the dismissal of about 700 cases.
The chief cited his department’s investigation and subsequent reforms as an important improvement to department policy. “This is a living document,” he said of the list. “Not only did we ID them, but just as importantly we have a good, due process now.”
Gascón stressed that any of the officers on the list can appeal the Police Department’s decision.
“The courts will ultimately decide the cases where credibility will be of concern,” he said.
Regardless of how many offenders these disclosures ultimately affect, police Commissioner Jim Hammer said, “It’s a sad thought someone who is guilty might go free.”
Who made the list?
Here is a list of the current and former Police Department employees whose past testimony might now be called into question:
61 Active-duty officers in public contact positions
9 Active-duty employees in administrative positions
5 Active-duty employees on extended medical leave
20 or more Officers former agency employees