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SFPD Chief Defends Officers’ Actions In Videotaped Drug Bust

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Public Defender Jeff Adachi said this drug bust on March 1st in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood was mishandled by officers. (San Francisco Public Defender / YouTube)

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said this drug bust on March 1st in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood was mishandled by officers. (San Francisco Public Defender / YouTube)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5 / KCBS) — A combative San Francisco Police Chief Jeff Godown came out swinging at the city’s public defender Thursday, saying he saw nothing wrong with the actions of three undercover officers from the department’s Richmond Station who were accused of misconduct after being videotaped during a recent drug search and arrest.

“I’m troubled and perplexed why an elected official – Jeff Adachi - continues to paint the police department with a wide brush of police misconduct,” Godown said. “That is untrue.”

KCBS’ Holly Quan Reports:

With several dozen members of his command staff standing around him, Godown insisted that his three officers – Sgt. Thomas Watts and officers Michael Zhang and Michele Martinez – acted according to the law and did not lie in the police report of the incident.

But during a preliminary court hearing Wednesday, a judge dismissed the case of McLaren Wenzell, 23, after reviewing security footage showing the March 1 search of Wenzell’s apartment located near 33rd Avenue and Geary Boulevard in the city’s Outer Richmond neighborhood.

The video shows the three officers searching Wenzell’s apartment building.

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.

In police reports submitted to the court, Officer Zhang said the three officers had their badges exposed on their “outermost clothing.”

Zhang also said Watts asked for Wenzell’s consent to search his home, but in a news conference at Adachi’s office on Wednesday, Wenzell’s attorney Robert Amparan said the consent may have been coerced.

The chief on Thursday said the officers did get consent for the search and were not required to wear their badges as undercover cops, nor – he maintained – did the report say they did.

District Attorney George Gascon said that he too disagreed with the judge’s decision to drop the case, and that his office would continue to try and pursue charges against Wenzell.

The case is one of 83 that have been dismissed due to several videos released by Adachi’s office that show conflicting information between police reports and what’s seen in the footage.

The previous videos showed alleged police misconduct at various residential hotels in the city in recent months, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken over the investigation into those cases.

Godown sought to contain the growing scandal, criticizing Adachi for using the news media to publicize the videos rather than supplying the footage to police investigators.

“If there’s allegations that are valid, we’ll look at them. I’m not going to stand here and not defend the people that work in this department,” Godown said. “We handle our own investigations and we do a good job.”

Adachi fired back that the chief was ignoring evidence that proves allegations against his officers.

“What we’re hearing from the chief is, ‘oh there’s no consequence. I believe the police officer over the person being accused.’”

Adachi said that in Wenzell’s case and in others, the officers “are generating the information that they are relying upon” to prosecute the case.

Godown, speaking at a news conference prior to a meeting of the SFPD’s command staff, said he was “troubled and kind of perplexed” by statements made by Adachi about the case.

“He continues to paint the Police Department with a wide brush” and “screams the sky is falling,” Godown said.

“I’m not going to sit back and let people bad mouth this department, and put out allegations of misconduct when they’re not true,” he said.

The chief said he saw nothing in the video that led him to believe there were any issues with the three officers that would require them to be removed from their regular duties.

“We’re going to continue to do our job and we’re not worried about people videotaping what we’re doing,” Godown said.

Officers are keenly aware that security cameras, iPhones and all manner of recording devices put every arrest and every traffic stop under scrutiny, Godown said, but cautioned that video footage does not necessarily reflect everything that happens in a police encounter.

“Everytime there’s a court proceeding and everytime somebody introduces a videotape to that court proceeding, I’m not going to jump up and down and panic over it,” he said. “Everytime there’s a videotape, that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong.”

Capt. Richard Corriea of the Richmond Station said he had “tremendous confidence” in the three officers involved in the latest video.

“If my mom called the police, these are the officers I’d want to go,” Corriea said.

(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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