Months before a San Francisco police officer falsely testified against a man in federal court, police misconduct investigators expressed doubts about his trustworthiness in another case.
Officer Nicholas M. Buckley told investigators with the Department of Police Accountability that he made sure a suspect’s handcuffs weren’t too tight during a November 2014 incident, newly released records show.
Buckley also denied hearing the man complain about the handcuffs hurting.
But the DPA had suspicions about the veracity of Buckley’s claims, and sustained unnecessary force allegations against him in December 2015 for over-tightening the handcuffs.
“There are significant inconsistencies between Off. Buckley’s statements about the handcuffs and whether [the suspect] complained about them and other, reliable evidence,” investigator J. Wechter wrote in October 2015. “These inconsistencies raise questions about Off. Buckley’s credibility.”
The DPA released the documents Monday in response to a public records request by the San Francisco Examiner.
The records raise questions about why Buckley was allowed to continue taking the stand after investigators had documented possible issues with his credibility.
In December 2015, a man named Brandon Simpson faced federal gun charges after Buckley arrested him on a Tenderloin street corner.
A federal judge tossed the case in May 2016 when surveillance video contradicted the narrative Buckley told about the arrest in sworn testimony.
“The video was unequivocal in rebutting everything that the police officer testified to — at least as to all pertinent details,” U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer said at the time. Breyer said the video was “entirely inconsistent and contradictory to the testimony given by the police officer.”
Simpson sued The City and secured a $50,000 settlement earlier this year.
Buckley is still employed by the San Francisco Police Department today. He earned $177,620 after overtime and benefits in 2018, according to the website Transparent California.
Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a police spokesperson, said Buckley is assigned to a position in the Special Operations Bureau where he does not have contact with the public “pending completion of an administrative investigation.”
Andraychak declined to comment on “personnel matters” but said “the SFPD is committed to providing just, transparent and responsive policing and will continue to build and maintain trust with the communities we serve.”
It’s unclear whether Buckley’s inconsistent statements landed him on a secret list of cops with possible credibility issues called the Brady list. Police share the list with prosecutors to help keep untrustworthy officers off the stand.
The list is named after the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland that requires law enforcement to turn over evidence that could help the defense, including evidence that calls into question a cop’s credibility.
“Our system cannot function with any integrity if we cannot trust the sworn testimony of our officials, which too often goes unquestioned,” said Valerie Ibarra, a spokesperson for the Public Defender’s Office.
“It is quintessential for prosecutors to seek out known information about an officer’s credibility and refuse to rely on an officer who has shown themselves to be untrustworthy,” Ibarra continued. “Otherwise, innocent people will suffer.”
The San Francisco Police Officers Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, referred the San Francisco Examiner to an attorney for Buckley for comment. The attorney could not immediately be reached by phone.
The DPA released the documents to the Examiner under Senate Bill 1421, a new state transparency law that requires agencies to release records on certain use-of-force, dishonesty and sexual assault cases involving officers.
The incident in question happened on Nov. 11, 2014, when Buckley and his partner stopped to investigate a man who was sitting in a parked car near 26th and Harrison streets and appeared to be intoxicated.
In a police report, Buckley said the man violently resisted arrest while being detained for public intoxication.
“I was forced to strike [the suspect] with my fist several times to his left leg, hip and side in an attempt to take him into custody, yet he continued to resist,” Buckley wrote. “I grabbed onto his right hand and bent his fingers back toward the top of his wrist. [The suspect] yelled in pain, placed his hands behind his back and I finally placed him into custody.”
By the end of the confrontation, the man was bleeding from the nose and mouth.
While in handcuffs, the man allegedly challenged Buckley to a fight and called him names including “midget” and “pussy,” Buckley said.
The man filed a complaint against Buckley in January 2015 with the DPA, which was then called the Office of Citizen Complaints.
The complainant, whose name is redacted, said that he had just returned to his friend’s home from dinner when Buckley accused him of driving under the influence.
“He then got mad, started charging at me and beating me up in front of the house,” the man wrote. “Also my wrist is still numb from handcuff/squeezed hard on my right hand.”
Among the evidence that showed the handcuffs were too tight were photographs of the man’s injured wrist and hospital records, according to the documents.
The DPA investigated five allegations of wrongdoing against Buckley as a result of the complaint. All but one, the sustained allegation for using excessive force, are redacted in the documents.
It’s unclear if dishonesty was among the allegations and if Buckley was disciplined for using unnecessary force.