Another SF Drug Case Dismissed After Video Surfaces

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Public Defender Jeff Adachi Wednesday released to the public yet another videotape depicting officers allegedly mishandling a search and arrest of a man who police claimed had committed a felony sale of marijuana.

The video shows three officers dressed in plainclothes—identified by Adachi’s office as Sgt. Thomas Watts and officers Michael Zhang and Michele Martinez—searching the apartment building of a 23-year-old San Francisco resident who lives in the city’s Outer Richmond neighborhood.

A judge dismissed Wednesday a preliminary hearing of McLaren Wenzell after reviewing security footage showing the March 1 search of Wenzell’s apartment located near 33rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard.

The three officers’ badges cannot be seen in footage of the three standing in the building’s garage, nor are their badges seen later in additional footage of them roaming hallways on the building’s third floor in search of drug activity.

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

But in police reports submitted to the court, Officer Zhang said the three officers had stars exposed on their “outer most clothing.”

Zhang also said Watts asked for Wenzell’s consent to search his home.

In a news conference Wednesday at Adachi’s office, Wenzell said he never gave police consent to search his apartment.

“They tried to coerce their way into my apartment,” Wenzell said.
“I told them no.”

Wenzell’s attorney Robert Amparan, who also attended the news conference, added that even if there was consent, “The consent itself was coerced.”

Amparan said, “You can’t get consent when you have your hand on your gun saying, ‘No matter what you do, I’m goin’ in anyway.’”

He pointed out a portion of footage that appears as though one of the officers is reaching for a gun on a waistband as the officer crosses the apartment’s threshold.

Adachi said police lied about wearing badges and lied about the manner that they entered Wenzell’s apartment, and that the officers have done so without significant penalties from their superiors.

“It’s one thing if they actually have information they’re using to generate probable cause,” Adachi said. “In this case, they are generating the information that they are relying upon.”

Wenzell’s case is one of more than 50 that have been dismissed in recent weeks due in part to several videos released by Adachi’s office that show conflicting information between police reports and what’s seen in the footage.

Adachi said he released the latest recording to District Attorney George Gascon’s office prior to showing it in Wenzell’s hearing, but Gascon’s lawyers decided to pursue the charges anyway.

Gascon’s spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck said their attorneys disagree with the court’s dismissal Wednesday and will continue to pursue the case against Wenzell.

“We’ve ordered transcripts to determine what, if any, appellate action we can take,” she said.

Gascon announced on March 11 that he was turning over the investigation into allegations of police misconduct to federal authorities.

The department’s Southern Station has had all plainclothes operations suspended as a result of similar videos released from Adachi’s office showing potentially mishandled drug busts.

San Francisco police spokesman Sgt. Mike Andraychak said he could not comment on whether any action will be taken against the three officers depicted in the latest footage.

He said that Wednesday afternoon was the first the Police Department had seen of the video.

Police Chief Jeff Godown mentioned in a related conference earlier this month that the public defender has made operations “very difficult” by not immediately submitting footage to police of the drug busts.

“It makes it very difficult for us to conduct the investigation if I have to watch the TV to find out what’s happening with my Police Department,” he said.

The officers named in earlier allegations were Richard Yick, Arshad Razzak, Arthur Madrid, Robert Forneris, Raul Elias, Raymond Kane, Samuel Christ and Gregory Buhagiar.

All came from the plainclothes unit at the Police Department’s Southern Station and have been reassigned to administrative duties during the investigation.

Andraychak said he could not comment on what would happen to the department’s Richmond Station in light of Wenzell’s case dismissal, but Godown had tentatively planned a news conference for Thursday morning to discuss the incident.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)


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