San Francisco Settles Suit Over Racially Biased Drug Arrests for $225K

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The city of San Francisco has agreed to pay $225,000 to settle claims that its police officers racially targeted 37 black people with arrests for selling “small amounts of drugs.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a settlement over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods. (BrokenSphere via Wikipedia)

Lead plaintiff Tiffany Cross is one of six people who sued the city in October 2018, alleging racist intent in a joint sting operation organized by the San Francisco Police Department, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2013 and 2014. Police targeted small-time dealers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, an area notorious for open-air illegal drug use and sales. Tiana Reddic was later added as a seventh plaintiff in the case.

The “Operation Safe Schools” task force intended to go after people selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school, a crime that comes with enhanced sentencing. All 37 arrestees faced at least a one-year mandatory minimum sentence in federal court.

About 46 law enforcement officers were involved in the operation, including 34 San Francisco police officers, 10 DEA officers, a U.S. marshal and a police officer from nearby Daly City.

One officer involved in the arrests was caught on video voicing racist views about black people. Another was seen refusing to buy drugs from an Asian person and instead waiting for a black woman to get off her phone so he could target her, according to video evidence cited in the complaint.

Among 37 black people arrested in two waves, 25 pleaded guilty. Another 12 arrestees fought the charges in federal court.

The Federal Public Defender’s office represented eight of the arrestees in a consolidated criminal case and uncovered evidence of racial bias through discovery requests. Before discovery could continue, the charges were abruptly dropped on Jan. 25, 2017.

The first wave of arrests took place between August and November 2013, resulting in 14 arrests. A second wave occurred from October to December 2014, resulting in 23 arrests. All six plaintiffs who sued the city in October 2018 were targeted in the second wave of arrests, according to the lawsuit.

In May 2019, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen partially dismissed the lawsuit, finding the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that all but one of 15 nonsupervisory police officers named as defendants in an amended complaint “harbored discriminatory animus.” The dismissal was granted with leave to amend.

Chen also dismissed claims against SFPD Deputy Chief Mike Redmond and Captain Jason Cherniss. He found the complaint did not sufficiently allege the supervisors “knew or should have known of the targeting but failed to take corrective action.” Chen said the plaintiffs could seek permission to reintroduce allegations against Redmond and Cherniss if new evidence supported such claims.

Chen refused to dismiss claims of civil rights violations against the city of San Francisco and SFPD Officer Daniel Rosaia, who was caught on video saying “fucking BMs,” allegedly referring to black males, as a fellow officer’s camera was trained on a group of black men and women. The other officer replied, “Ssh, hey, I’m rolling,” indicating his camera was recording, according to video evidence cited in the complaint.

The lawsuit cited reports going back to 2002 showing a pattern of racial bias in the San Francisco Police Department, including two separate scandals over officers exchanging racist text messages in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

The complaint also cited reviews by U.S. Justice Department in 2016 and a Blue Ribbon Panel formed by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office in 2015. Both reviews found the department failed to implement recommended changes to training procedures, data collection and internal investigation practices to enhance transparency and eliminate racial bias.

The plaintiffs informed the court in October 2019 they had reached a settlement in principle with the city.

The settlement amount of $225,000 was first made public this week in the agenda for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 7 meeting. The proposed ordinance to authorize the $225,000 settlement will go to the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee before returning to the full board for a final vote over the next few weeks.

According to Transparent California, which tracks public employees’ salaries and benefits, defendant officer Rosaia made $271,400 in pay and benefits in 2018, more than the $225,000 to be shared among seven plaintiffs who claimed they were racially targeted by police.

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office and American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which represents the plaintiffs, did not immediately return email requests for comment Friday morning.

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