The San Francisco police department internal affairs division is investigating whether one of its officers violated department policy by telling a group of minorities “we’re going to ship everybody back to their own country” and threatening to involve federal immigration agents.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit captured the officer’s comments on camera last month as part of an unrelated hidden camera investigation looking into the black market for stolen merchandise in downtown San Francisco.
The video shows officer Joshua N. Fry approaching a group of Asian and Hispanic men standing near the BART station at 7th Street and Market in San Francisco.
The area is known as a hot spot for hot merchandise where people can be found selling everything from designer UGG boots to deeply discounted Crate and Barrel coffee presses, even frozen ground turkey and marinated tri-tip and steaks lifted from nearby grocery stores.
As the Investigative Unit surveilled the corner, Officer Fry, wearing sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt, and badge #656 around his neck, walked into the area along with two other plainclothes officers.
To a pair of gray-haired Asian men, he said, “Hey you know why people steal stuff? Because people like you come down here and buy their [expletive] all day. But you know what we’ve been doing, we’ve been taking your picture.”
Fry seemed unconcerned about revealing his team had the area under surveillance.
“I’ve been taking your picture," he said, pointing to a Hispanic man. “We’re taking a lot of pictures. We have some fun [expletive] coming for you guys, just wait.”
The Hispanic man asked, “I don’t do nothing, why do you take picture of me?”
To which Fry responded, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, wait ‘til we get INS [Immigration and Naturalization Services] involved in here too, it’s going to be awesome. We’re going to ship everybody back to their own country.”
INS was dissolved in 2003 and the enforcement of federal immigration law is now handled by Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
But San Francisco police department policy established in 1995 still refers to INS.
It instructs officers that they are not to enforce immigration law or work with INS unless those agents are in “significant danger.”
The SF Police Commission is in the process of updating its policy on the enforcement of immigration laws after NBC Bay Area inquired about the outdated references to INS.
The Investigative Unit learned Officer Fry has been on camera before. YouTube video from 2011 shows fry in a confrontation with local rapper Debray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter after the officer unplugged a boombox playing loud music. When Carpenter refused Fry’s commands to stop recording with his phone, the officer moved forward and tried to slap the phone out of Carpenter’s hand. A jury later found Carpenter guilty of misdemeanor obstruction of an officer.
Officer Fry declined to comment for this story.
SFPD chief William Scott said the entire department has been reminded of the agency’s policy on the enforcement of immigration laws. He declined our interview request but faced questions from Supervisor Jane Kim who represents District 6, where the incident occurred.
At a Board of Supervisors hearing on May 16, Kim referenced the NBC Bay Area report, “They had recorded on camera what the officer had threatened [to] some of these individuals saying they couldn’t wait for ICE to come and take all the immigrants away. I’m curious what follow up has occurred after that incident.”
Chief Scott said the incident was “under investigation by internal affairs” and added, “Department policy is really clear in terms of, we do not engage in the work of enforcement for immigration laws. It’s very clear if that’s violated then disciplinary matters have been and will be taken.”
“It’s not only disturbing, it definitely shows what may be happening on the street,” San Francisco public defender Jeff Adachi said.
Adachi is the state’s only elected public defender. Since taking office in 2002, he’s tried more than 150 jury cases including several involving SFPD and discrimination.
For a department trying to rebuild public trust, Adachi says this incident exposes how much work remains.
“This was a situation where the officer did not know he was being filmed and obviously felt free to threaten people,” Adachi said, “This is something that should be investigated and hopefully there will be a strong edict from the chief and from the SFPD saying this is not going to be tolerated.”