Those doing defense work should be aware of the ongoing controversy involving video surveillance at the Henry Hotel in San Francisco. The controversy recently came into the public eye as the result of several cases beginning in December 2010 when a man was arrested for a drug possession charge at the Henry Hotel in San Francisco. Members of the SFPD Narcotics Unit acting on a tip from a confidential informant responded to the Henry Hotel and, according to the police report of the incident, officers knocked on the resident’s door, announced themselves and waited for a response. Hearing none, the officer wrote, officers slightly opened the door with a master key. Without entering the unit, officers then told the female resident they were freezing the room until they could obtain a search warrant. According to police reports of the incident, the woman then gave them verbal permission to search the premises while officers contacted headquarters and asked a unit to respond with a consent form she could read, according to the police report. A man inside the woman’s room was arrested after officers claimed to find heroin and crack on his person. However, surveillance video discovered by the San Francisco PD Office from the Henry Hotel shows that the four narcotics officers used a master key to barge directly into the room without knocking or obtaining consent. The video evidence directly contradicts the reports of the officers which were signed under penalty of perjury.
In a January incident, also at the Henry Hotel, one police officer is observed covering the surveillance camera with his hand while other officers enter a room and search it without consent or a warrant.
In yet another incident at the Henry Hotel in December, recently released surveillance footage from the Henry Hotel reveals a man was falsely arrested for drug possession by officers currently under federal investigation for perjury and conducting illegal searches.
The footage of the Dec. 2, 2010 arrest was released during a press conference earlier this month at the San Francisco Public Defenders office. The December 2nd incident involves the same officers that were involved in the December 23rd incident. In the video, a 29-year-old man, is seen walking into the Henry Hotel and ascending the stairs wearing a black jacket. Moments later, police using a master key enter the sixth floor room of two women suspected of selling drugs, where the man is a visitor. Officers find a white and gold jacket slung over a chair with drugs in the pocket and no identification. According to police reports, another officer states that he witnessed the man walk into the hotel wearing the same white and gold jacket. The man indicated that it was not his jacket when he was arrested, and police did not enter his black jacket into evidence, nor did they indicate in reports that he claimed it was not his jacket. The man, who served three weeks in jail over the incident, was freed when prosecutors dropped the case after a preliminary hearing.
Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office said the seriousness of the matter could not be overstated.
“A free society cannot abide a culture of lawlessness by police,” Gonzalez said. “Those officers who lie under oath to magistrates should be prosecuted for their misconduct. They are no better than the criminals they purport to be in pursuit of.”
The latest footage brings the number of videotaped misconduct incidents involving SFPD officers to four. It is a good reminder to always check and see if surveillance video is available of traffic stops, street encounters, or other encounters where surveillance cameras might have captured the scene. Thanks to the San Francisco Public Defenders Office for their good work.