SAN FRANCISCO -- Five San Francisco police officers and one former officer were indicted Thursday on an array of federal law and civil rights violations, including extortion, drug dealing, stealing and conspiring to oppress low-income residents living in single-occupancy hotel rooms.
A federal grand jury indicted the men in two separate groups, the "Southern Station Defendants" and the "Mission Station Defendants," United States Attorney Melinda Haag said. While the nature of the crimes vary, both groups are accused of flagrant misconduct and conspiracy against the civil rights of the citizens they serve.
Southern Station Officers Arshad Razzak, 41, Richard Yick, 37, of San Francisco, and Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo, are accused of conspiring "to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate" residents of single-occupancy hotel rooms by unlawfully entering their rooms with a master key and without legal justification, the indictment said. The officers, who patrolled the South of Market area where San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi uncovered questionable hotel surveillance footage, reportedly drafted fake police reports and informant payment slips allegedly used to conceal unlawful activity.
The allegations came to light in early 2011 after Adachi released video that suggested the plain-clothed officers had operated in a way inconsistent with police reports and sworn testimony, footage the plaintiffs' attorney John Burris said "broke the case wide open." San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon turned the case over to federal investigators, citing a conflict of interest.
"I am relieved to know that the officers have been indicted, after I referred the matter to federal authorities," said Gascon, a former San Francisco police chief. "It is extremely disappointing that the officers violated the trust of the community and tarnished the reputation of all the hard working men and women in uniform."
Burris, who represents three of the victims of the alleged hotel misconduct, said "It's important that officers are held accountable when they break the law, and particularly when they disrespect the rights of people who are having a difficult time in life. They would search their rooms without consent but say they had consent, on a very regular basis."
The investigation went on to uncover additional allegations of misconduct in the Mission Station, where Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville, and former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert, are accused of dealing confiscated drugs and stealing money, electronics and gift cards for personal use, prosecutors said. In one case, Vargas is accused of buying an Apple iPhone and an iPod Nano with a seized Apple giftcard, and in another, accused of giving confiscated marijuana to two informants and telling them to split the proceeds among themselves and the three defendants.
The officers' attorneys could not be reached Thursday.
San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said in a statement Thursday that all of the officers were suspended without pay the morning their summons were delivered and that they will remain off the force until the matter has been reconciled.
"This investigation -- by far, as the public's trust is everything to us -- has been of the gravest concern," Suhr said. "There is no place in the San Francisco Police Department -- and shouldn't be in any police department -- for a dishonest cop."
All Southern Station defendants face charges of civil rights conspiracy and deprivation of rights under color of law, Haag said. All Mission Station defendants were charged with drug conspiracy and distribution, along with federal program theft and conspiracy.
In addition, Furminger was charged with extortion, Haag said, and Razzak and Yick were charged with falsifying records. The five current police officers will appear in court 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, and Vargas was scheduled to appear Thursday afternoon.