Matt Gonzalez, Chief Attorney with the Public Defender's Office, speaks to reporters outside the Board of Supervisors chambers after they honored the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi at the regular BOS meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Supervisors denounce leak of police report on death of Jeff Adachi

Concerned that police leaked salacious details about the sudden death of Public Defender Jeff Adachi to the media, all but two members of the Board of Supervisors called for a hearing on the issue Tuesday.

Adachi, 59, died Friday evening after suffering an apparent heart attack at an apartment down the street from Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. A confidential police report that raised suspicion about the circumstances of his death grabbed headlines over the weekend.

Police found open bottles of alcohol, cannabis-infused gummies and used syringes that could have been left by paramedics at the scene, according to the report obtained by media outlets including the San Francisco Examiner. An unidentified woman called 911 when Adachi stopped breathing.

Supervisor Sandra Fewer, who led the call, said she was not only “outraged” by the leak but with police releasing sensitive or private information to the public more broadly, such as in the case of Tenderloin Police Station, which regularly posts the mugshots of suspects on Twitter.

“This is not just an issue with high-profile cases, but this is an issue really about public trust and whether members of the public can trust whether they and their loved ones are not being exposed to an unwarranted invasion of privacy,” Fewer said at the Board of Supervisors.

Fewer’s call for a hearing was co-sponsored by every supervisor except Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani.

Critics suggested that the report may have been leaked in retaliation for Adachi’s frequent criticism of alleged police misconduct.

“It seems to be without precedent that this was leaked to the press,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said after the meeting. “The fact that Jeff Adachi stood up to aspects of Police Department behavior that were unacceptable does not mean that he should be mistreated after his passing.”

A police spokesperson said the department has launched an investigation into the unauthorized release as a “serious violation of department policy.”

“The public expects professionalism and accountability from the Police Department, and thus, we will diligently investigate this violation,” Sgt. Michael Andraychak said in a statement. “Anyone found in violation of established policies will be appropriately disciplined.”

Matt Gonzalez, Chief Attorney with the Public Defender’s Office, speaks to reporters outside the Board of Supervisors chambers after they honored the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi at the regular BOS meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Matt Gonzalez, who served as second in command to Adachi as the chief attorney for the Public Defender’s Office, blasted the release of the report and said he supported the police investigation into the leak.

“In a particular case like this as I think we all know you’re trying to balance the massive interest in information about the death of an elected official, but on the other hand you don’t necessarily have to just put out details that nobody wants to hear,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez is expected to run the day-to-day operations of the office until Mayor London Breed appoints a replacement for Adachi. That person would serve until a permanent public defender is elected in November.

Gonzalez has said he would be honored if Breed appointed him. He has the support of supervisors such as Peskin and Rafael Mandelman.

Gonzalez said he has talked about the appointment with Sean Elsbernd, the mayor’s chief of staff, and could meet with the office as early as next week to further discuss the decision.

“I’m not really worried about this in any large sense,” Gonzalez said after the Board of Supervisors meeting. “It’s a decision for her to make whenever she wants to. It’s not for her to have a timeline dictated by me.”

“By all means I am not entitled to the appointment by any stretch of the imagination,” Gonzalez continued. “If they make a decision that they don’t want to appoint me I really would be happy to participate in trying to select who the right person would be.”

Among the rumored options that Breed might select to replace Adachi are Niki Solis and district attorney candidate Chesa Boudin, both deputy public defenders. Appointing Boudin would mean less competition for former Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus, who Breed endorsed.

Despite the controversy over information being released to the public, the police report has left many questions unanswered.

According to the report, a woman identified as “Caterina” called 911 at 5:41 p.m. from an apartment at 46 Telegraph Place. The woman has not been identified, but the Public Defender’s Office said Adachi had trouble breathing after having dinner with a friend in North Beach.

Caterina told dispatchers that a man, later identified as Adachi, had two glasses of wine and suffered stomach pains at a nearby restaurant. They rode in an Uber to the apartment where Adachi took a pill and stopped breathing. It is not known what pill Adachi ingested.

Medics arrived at the apartment at around 5:51 p.m. and performed CPR. An ambulance took Adachi to California Pacific Medical Center on Buchanan Street, where he was pronounced dead at 6:54 p.m.

Police did not respond to the apartment until 8:37 p.m., nearly three hours later. But while en route, dispatch notified police that they were no longer needed and the call was cancelled.

Also according to the report, a woman named Susie Kurtz told police Caterina called her on Adachi’s phone and said “something was wrong with Jeff.” Kurtz has since been identified in media reports as a realtor.

Kurtz said she gave Adachi permission to use the apartment for two days on Feb. 15. During that conversation, Adachi had mentioned Caterina but Kurtz had not met her, she told police.

Police have said they are investigating the death but there are no signs of foul play.

S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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