The Pacifica Police Department posted this photo of a woman wanted in connection with pulling a fire alarm Aug. 7. The suspect has since been identified as San Francisco police Sgt. Maria Teresa Donati (Courtesy PPD via Facebook)

SFPD sergeant accused of pulling false fire alarm at Pacifica police station

Sgt. Maria Teresa Donati under investigation after meeting on homelessness disrupted

A San Francisco police sergeant may face a misdemeanor charge for allegedly pulling a fire alarm at a police station in Pacifica, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Sgt. Maria Teresa Donati has been identified as the suspect who triggered the false alarm at Pacifica Police Department on Aug. 7 after not being allowed into a closed-door meeting on homelessness.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said he plans to decide whether to charge Donati Thursday afternoon. Pacifica police have recommended that she be charged, Wagstaffe said.

“It’s one thing when it’s a teenage prank, it’s another when it’s a law enforcement officer who has raised his or her right hand to [say], ‘I promise to uphold the law,’” Wagstaffe said. “I’m going to need to hear a pretty good explanation as to what mitigates this.”

In response to a request for comment on Donati, the San Francisco Police Department said it has launched an administrative investigation.

Attempts to reach Donati by phone were not successful.

Donati, a 46-year-old resident of Pacifica who is known as Tessa, was hired by the SFPD in June 1995.

She is assigned to the Municipal Transportation Agency unit of the department and is married to another SFPD officer, according to the department and the police union newsletter.

She had not been reassigned or taken off duty as of last week, an SFPD spokesperson said.

The fire alarm interrupted a meeting at the Pacifica police station on the growing number of homeless people living in RVs in Pacifica.

Anita Rees, director of the Pacifica Resource Center and one of the meeting organizers, said there was dissent over the forum being held behind closed doors.

Rees said she saw the Pacifica police chief stop a woman from entering the meeting shortly before the fire alarm went off in the lobby.

“I imagine it was to disrupt the meeting,” Rees said. “There were some folks who felt strongly that the meeting needed to be open, but it isn’t a city task force it’s a community task force. It doesn’t have to be open to folks.”

Rees said she did not recognize the woman.

The chief then checked to see whether the fire alarm had merit before quickly determining that it did not, Rees said. The group stayed inside the meeting room.

That night, Pacifica Police Department asked the public to help identify the suspect who pulled the fire alarm by posting her photo on social media.

“This suspect has been identified and detained,” the department later wrote on Facebook. “She will be prosecuted for this offense.”

The post was later changed.

“This suspect has been identified,” the department wrote. “She will be prosecuted for this offense, at the discretion of the District Attorney.”

Pacifica police Captain Chris Clements declined to confirm for the Examiner that Donati was the suspect, citing an open investigation.

“We have not publicly identified the suspect in this incident, and the case has been submitted to the District Attorney’s Office for review for appropriate charges,” Clements wrote in an email Wednesday night. “We will release additional information once a decision has been made whether charges are appropriate in this case. There is no further information for release at this time.”

Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the union is not representing Donati on the matter and declined to comment.

Last Wednesday, San Francisco police spokesperson Sgt. Michael Andraychak said the internal investigation was ongoing.

“Once the investigation is completed, it will be referred to the Chief of Police for review,” Andraychak said. “The determination of discipline for any sustained complaint takes into account all factors presented by the investigation.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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