Four San Francisco police officers pleaded not guilty in federal court today to charges of conspiring to violate civil rights and steal property, money and drugs seized during searches and arrests.
The officers are four of six charged in two separate federal indictments, issued under seal on Tuesday and announced Thursday by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, alleging that they conducted illegal searches of single-room occupancy residential hotel rooms and stole seized property between 2009 and 2011.
Officers Arshad Razzak, 41, of San Francisco, Richard Yick, 37, of San Francisco, and Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo, each pleaded not guilty in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Elizabeth Laporte to six counts they allegedly committed while working at San Francisco's Southern Station in 2010 and 2011.
Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill, pleaded not guilty to five counts allegedly committed while he was working at the department's Mission Station in 2009 and 2010.
Another officer named in that indictment, Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville, declined to enter a plea today while a former officer also charged, Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert, entered a plea on Thursday.
All six men have been granted release on $50,000 bond.
The allegations first surfaced in March 2011 when San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi began to release a series of video surveillance tapes from single-room-occupancy hotels that allegedly showed plainclothes officers conducting illegal searches during drug busts.
Speaking to reporters after today's hearing, Razzak's attorney, Michael Rains, said that the length of time between the officers being accused and the indictment being filed indicates that the federal government did not believe that it had a strong enough case to bring charges against the officers.
"The government sat on this case for three years and allowed these guys to languish at their jobs," Rains said.
Rains said that given the length of time that the federal government has been investigating the case, he expects that the evidence has previously been presented to grand juries who did not issue an indictment.
Even so, he expects the case to go to trial, but likely not for about a year.
Police Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday that the department was "shaken" by the allegations and that the five officers still serving with the department have been suspended without pay. Suhr said that if convicted, they would be fired.
San Francisco Police Officers Association president Mark Halloran today questioned Suhr's judgment in making that statement, saying that the officers involved "deserve to have their day in court."
"They're all hardworking officers, they're dedicated to this city," Halloran said. "They know their job, they've been doing it efficiently for many years."
In the first indictment, the three officers formerly assigned to the Police Department's Southern Station, Razzak, Yick and Elias, are alleged to have conspired to "injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate" hotel occupants by entering and searching their rooms without legal justification.
The officers are accused of two additional counts of illegally searching two rooms in December 2010 and January 2011.
Razzak and Yick are also each charged with two counts of falsifying police reports and an informant payment record.
In the second indictment, the officers from the Mission Station, Vargas, Furminger, and Robles, are accused of three conspiracies: plotting to violate civil rights by stealing money and property from people arrested; conspiring to sell drugs; and scheming to steal seized money, property and drug evidence from the Police Department.
The indictment also accuses the three men of selling marijuana in 2009 and stealing more than $5,000 worth of property from the department in 2009 and 2010.
If convicted, the officers could face lengthy prison terms.
Elias, Yick and Razzak have been ordered to return to court Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg, while Furminger, Robles and Vargas are ordered to return Wednesday before U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer.