Judge dismisses drug trafficking case; Video contradicts police

In what the press described as “the latest case in which video appeared to undermine police testimony,” a San Francisco judge has dismissed drug trafficking charges against a 23-year-old California man after discovering numerous inconsistencies between videotape evidence and police testimony. The drug charges were filed after police allegedly found the man in possession of 4 pounds of marijuana on March 1.

The case is the latest in a series of scandals enveloping the San Francisco Police Department’s Southern Station. Eight officers from that unit have been reassigned from a plainclothes detail and are the target of an ongoing FBI probe. In numerous drug possession and distribution cases recently, videotapes have been found to directly contradict the sworn evidence of the officers involved in drug busts. So far, 76 sets of criminal charges have been dismissed on Fourth Amendment grounds.

In this particular drug trafficking case, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office insists that the videotapes did not contradict police testimony, despite the fact that a judge disagreed after a three-day preliminary hearing.

“It is our assertion that the relevant evidence shows an interaction that corroborates the testimony provided,” said District Attorney George Gascón.

Alleged police misconduct in numerous cases saps department’s credibility

The long-term urgency of America’s “war on drugs” has put pressure on many police departments and prosecutors to increase drug arrests, conviction rates and criminal sentences at both the state and federal levels. Meeting those goals by violating the constitutional rights of our citizens, however, is intolerable.

DA Gascón insists that his office acted promptly when it was alerted to the earlier allegations of police misconduct in drug raids, but it seems that at the very least, the San Francisco PD’s credibility has suffered.

In the most recent drug trafficking case, three plainclothes police officers from the San Francisco Police Department’s Richmond Station stated in their reports that the defendant had consented to a search of his apartment, but the defendant denied having done so.

In their reports, the officers said they encountered the defendant just outside his apartment. With their police badges clearly visible, they said, they questioned the young man, who admitted to legally possessing a small amount of marijuana and showed them a prescription note. The young man then went inside and, about 30 seconds later, the officers reported, he reopened the door and agreed to let them inside to search.

The videotape, which came from a building surveillance camera, appears to contradict the officers’ reports. First, the tape clearly shows that the officers did not have their badges visible. Second, the defendant did not close the door to his apartment, then reopen it and invite the officers inside, as the police had described. Instead, the police can be seen simply following the defendant into the apartment.

The sergeant who led the operation apparently had trouble answering defense questions when confronted with the tape.

“The testimony (of the sergeant at the scene) was proven to be untrue in several critical respects,” said the young man’s criminal defense lawyer. “They said they obtained consent…but as the testimony showed, the officers were not truthful.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, “S.F. pot case tossed as video contradicts police,” Jaxon Van Derbeken, March 31, 2011