5 San Francisco Police Officers Indicted for Civil Rights, Corruption Violations

Five San Francisco police officers and a former officer are under federal indictment for civil rights and other corruption violations, with two charged with stealing money and drugs seized as part of investigations.

The U.S. Attorney's Office announced the indictments on Thursday.

The charges are tied to a series of raids on hotels back in 2011, where the officers are accused of threatening hotel guests without legal justification.

Two of the current officers and a former officer are charged with distributing controlled substances along with stealing money, drugs, computers, electronic devices and gift cards from suspects. 

The officers indicted by federal prosecutors have been suspended without pay and had their guns taken away, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Thursday at a news conference shortly after federal prosecutors announced the indictments.

"Our department is shaken," an emotional Suhr said. "This is as serious as an issue as I can recall in my time in the department."

Suhr said federal authorities assured him the arrests did not reflect a systemic problem in the department.

The officers, based out of the department’s Mission Station, were identified as Sergeant Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill; Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville; and Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert, California.

On March 2, 2009, the officers took items they seized during an arrest, including a $500 Apple gift card, according to the indictment [PDF]. Two days later, prosecutors said, Vargas used the gift card to buy an iPhone and iPod Nano.
In a separate incident the same month, the indictment says, the officers took marijuana. Vargas is accused of delivering the pot to two informants and asking them to sell it and split the proceeds with him, Furminger and Robles. 

Separately, three of the officers are charged with civil rights violations for allegedly entering single occupancy hotel rooms and intimidating their occupants.

The charges were based on surveillance footage from a hotel in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood that was released by the city's public defender, Jeff Adachi, in 2011. Adachi claimed the videos of plainclothes officers contradicted police reports and sworn police testimony.

Those officers, based out of the department’s Southern Station, have been identified as Officer Arshad Razzak, 41, of San Francisco; Officer Richard Yick, 37, of San Francisco; and Officer Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo. According to the indictment [PDF], they allegedly “conspired to injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate occupants of single room occupancy hotel rooms by entering hotel rooms without legal justification.”

Razzak and Yick were also charged with falsifying police reports.

Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said in a statement that the indictments were apparently based on the questionable testimony of unreliable informant witnesses.

"However, we do understand that these are nonetheless serious charges,'' Halloran said. "It is important to remember that the accused officers will have their day in court since federal grand juries only hear one side of the story.''

"I commend the U.S. Attorney for taking seriously the reports from ordinary citizens who had been humiliated, stolen from and hurt by police officers sworn to protect them," Adachi said in a statement. "For years, our clients told us their rights were being violated, and for years we raised the issues in front of judges. Ultimately, it took a federal investigation to hold accountable those who would violate the public trust."

One of the videos released in 2011 by Adachi shows two officers walking into a residential hotel empty-handed and leaving with bags that Adachi said weren't booked into evidence.

All six face prison time if convicted.

Allegations stemming from the released videos led to the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.
The charges came after San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon referred the investigation to federal authorities, citing a conflict of interest, federal prosecutors said. Gascon was the police chief at the time the alleged conduct occurred.

Five of the defendants are scheduled to appear in court on Friday. Vargas was scheduled to appear before a judge later on Thursday, prosecutors said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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