Newly disclosed disciplinary records reveal that a San Francisco police officer resigned just one day before the department found he mishandled a 2016 fatal confrontation with a homeless man.
The officer had found work at another department in August 2019 before SFPD had a chance to discipline him.
Critics seized on the case of SFPD Officer Michael Mellone, who now works at the Antioch police department, as an example of a revolving-door disciplinary system that they say allows officers to escape misconduct cases.
On Aug. 19 of last year, records show, the SFPD Internal Affairs division sought a 10-day neglect of duty suspension against Mellone for the April 2016 shooting death of Luis Gongora Pat.
While the shooting itself was found to be within policy, the internal finding came after the city’s Department of Police Accountability had recommended a 45-day suspension, arguing that Mellone’s “unilateral decision to escalate” the situation and fire off four bean bag rounds was a factor in the shooting.
Specifically, the agency found Mellone failed to distance himself from the situation or develop a plan.
In December, Police Chief Bill Scott sided with the watchdog agency’s recommendation that Mellone be suspended for 45 days. But by then, he had joined the Antioch police department.
The attorney who filed a wrongful death suit over the shooting was quick to react Thursday, saying the family was angry at hearing Mellone had ended up without any punishment simply because he left the department in time.
“You have essentially a revolving door of abusiveness, that gets transferred from one community to the other,” said civil rights attorney Adante Pointer.
The city settled with the family last year for $140,000, before any disciplinary findings were reached against Mellone.
“Not only did he manage to escape punishment,” Pointer said about Mellone, “but he also managed to get another opportunity to go to yet another city, another community, and continue his career as a police officer with this discipline sight-unseen, until today.”
In a statement released Thursday, the Antioch police department said it did not know Mellone was facing possible discipline at the time he underwent background screening to be hired.
“At the time, the shooting had been ruled justifiable by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and there was no decisional document provided to the background investigator that sustained allegations of misconduct.”
At Wednesday’s Police Commission hearing, Police Commissioner John Hamasaki, himself a civil rights and criminal attorney, talked about the issue of problem officers moving between departments.
“Anytime anybody gets in real trouble in discipline, they resign, and they leave,” he told his colleagues. “If someone resigns, there is no finding, so there’s no transparency -- nobody knows about the bad conduct that took place.”
The issue was raised this week by District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who is seeking to find a way to close what he considers a loophole in the police disciplinary system.
“This is an example of a problem that’s too widespread, that is sadly cloaked in a veil of secrecy,” Boudin said, adding that the oversight process needs to be revamped “to make sure that officers can’t simply quit, or resign in order to defeat the process and the accountability that process is designed to ensure.”