The SFPD is Evil

It is now close to 3:30 AM and I am now home, after being thrown into a drunk tank with a pot peddler named Jacob. I feel utterly debased and completely humiliated. There are horrible red rings around my wrists that still sting. This was, of course, the horrid cut of handcuffs, bound as tight as possible by two cocky members of the SFPD who needed to fill a quota and who, for whatever reason, singled me out. A white guy in the Haight.

Now I had never been arrested before any of this. And I now know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I cannot run for political office if I wanted to. Because I am now, even with a misdemeanor on my record, an abject criminal. So sayeth the smug sons of bitches (they being Officer Lamela and Officer Vyu, according to this rinky-dink report they handed me) who decided to arrest me tonight for the most abject of charges. The crumpled report I have in my pocket indicates that I violated 647(f)P.C. RWS. Which I presume is California Penal Code 647(f), which states:

Who is found in any public place under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, controlled substance, or toluene, in a condition that he or she is unable to exercise care for his or her own safety or the safety of others, or by reason of his or her being under the influence of intoxicating liquor, any drug, controlled substance, toluene, or any combination of any intoxicating liquor, drug, or toluene, interferes with or obstructs or prevents the free use of any street, sidewalk, or other public way.

But here’s the thing. While I was, at the time of arrest, working on a second screwdriver, I wasn’t drunk. Nor did these two police officers even bother to test me with a breathalyzer.

I wish I could tell you that I handled it well. But I didn’t.

I wish I could tell you that I rose to the occasion. I wish I could tell you that I didn’t rip up toilet paper in the cell they through me in into little pieces, begging for the time to go by, while Jacob snored into next week. But I didn’t.

Here’s what happened:

Tonight, while mixing audio for the next podcast, I made an unfortunate decision. I decided to smoke again. Never mind that I had quit. Never mind that I promised myself that I wouldn’t smoke again. I went outside for a smoke break. As it turned out, this was perhaps the worst mistake I could have made.

As I was smoking, a light from a police car in the street shined on me. As I put my cigarette out and was prepared to dispose of it, one of the officers cried, “Hey!”

I answered, “Is there a problem, officer?”

Because the light from the black-and-white was shining into my face, I couldn’t see the officer particularly well. And one of the officers, apparently the guy who had shouted “Hey,” came up to me and cited me for littering. I told the officer that I was in the process of disposing of the cigarette butt, which I truthfully was. But this wasn’t quick enough for him. He put his cuffs on me.

Perhaps it wasn’t a wise idea to respond, “What the fuck is the problem?” But understand that when a police officer puts his cuffs painfullly around your wrists without citing you, tact isn’t exactly the thing that comes to mind. I was bemused and enraged more than anything else. And while the f-bomb isn’t exactly an inroads to diplomacy, I happen to know that even a misdemeanor is accorded the Miranda rights. But I didn’t get any of this, nor was I able to ascertain a specific code section that I had violated. And I certainly didn’t get an answer from them for what I was charged for.

The two cops pushed me to a car and manacled my ass, as if I was the local heroin dealer or some PCP addict. I asked them repeatedly what I was charged for. They claimed littering. But the report, as I have specified above, states otherwise.

It all happened extraordinarily fast. They took all the contents of my pockets, including my wallet and my keys. These two cops pushed me into the back of the car and, even while they were driving me to the local hold tank, they still wouldn’t answer what specific charges I was cited with — despite repeated requests on my part.

“Can you give me with a specific code charge that I’m cited with?” I asked, as the manacles bit into my flesh.

The two cops remained silent. They mentioned “littering” and “drunk and disorderly.” But even if I was drunk (which I was not), they completely failed to tell me exactly how I was disrupting the public. After all, I was alone. And while smoking the stupid cigarette, they didn’t tell me how I was disrupting other people. (There was nobody nearby.)

I was then handcuffed to a bench in the small confines in Golden Gate Park. Another police officer asked me my phone number. I asked him why he needed to know it. He told me that if I was a “good person,” I would give it to him without question. Understand that I was not being difficult. I just wanted to know why they needed such private information. I was, of course, aware of the Fourth Amendment. But apparently, I was a threat.

In any event, I gave my digits to the dude. But this essentially meant nothing. And I was still denied a phone call, much less a reason for why I had been arrested.

So I was cuffed to a waiting area. And I met Jacob, a pot peddler who told me that he was in for D&D. But he was honest enough to tell me that there was, in fact, a justifiable reason why the cops nabbed him.

Before I knew it, I was thrown into a horrid cell, in which I quickly grew familiar with the environs. A stainless steel toilet, some very thick walls with cracks in them, a sink that doubled as a source of water. And Jacob, whom I placated and promised that I would recognize him if he was dealing dope in front of Amoeba Records, inter alia.

Well, Jacob fell fast asleep. He was clearly drunker than me. And I was left in this cell reciting Milton and Shakespeare to keep me sane, wondering if anyone would let me out. I had talked with Jacob and he intimated to me that a cop would come after about four hours of this nonsense. And then he zoned out And I was left in the holding tank contemplating every prison film I had ever seen.

I began to panic. I looked through the mesh and saw nobody. It was clear to me that nobody was on duty.

Of course, being quite cognizant of where I was, I began to rip toilet paper. I recited all the poems that I knew. The prospect of falling asleep on the stolid concrete simply wasn’t and option.

Three and a half hours later, seeing nobody and being unable to sleep with Jacob’s snoring, I came up with the crazed idea of rapping on the mesh. To my great surprise, a deputy came over. I told him that I hoped to go home, where I could actually sleep. Amazingly, he understood. He told me that he was not the guy who arrested me, which suggested to me that the two officers who had thrown me into the drunk tank had been perhaps a tad mistaken and that this was business as usual. I was able to sign for my shit and collect all my possessions. And I played it absolutely safe to ensure that I would get the hell out of there. The deputy pointed me to Haight Street, but I knew where it was.

And I walked home, sobbing like a girl and feeling utterly horrible and wanting some kind of retribution for my perspicacious fate.

And now here I am home, fueled by some litigious retribution and fired up by utter enmity of the officers who didn’t bother to figure things out. I don’t know exactly what to do, but rest assured that vengeance will, in some small sense, be mine.

I still remain quite stunned by what happened, but if anyone has any ideas, please shoot them my way.

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  1. I hope that this was a bad dream, but in the event that it isn’t, you’ve done the right thing already: let people know that this sort of nonsense happens. Now get on the phone and call the local office of the ACLU. They will know exactly what you need to do.

  2. This was painful to read, so it must have been absolutely horrible to experience. I’m not sure what to say; this is the kind of thing that can shake one’s view of the world because it touches on the fears that a lot of us, deep down, have but bury in going about our day-to-day lives.

    As someone who’s never lived in San Francisco (I stayed three months outside Santa Fe), I have always felt that it was the city where something like this was least likely to happen. I hope your posting this will contribute to this not happening to other people.

    I guess that sounds pretty dumb.

  3. You are totally kidding, how awful! Are there going to be a lot of fines & unpleasant aftermath, or is that it? I am so sorry you had this horrid and debasing experience…

  4. Hire a lawyer and force those cops to show up in court and present the “evidence” they have against you. It sounds like there is no case — and you are right, you don’t want a misdemeanor on your record. Then I would write an op-ed for the Chronicle. After all, Gavin Newsom is on a quest to improve the culture of the police department.

  5. Ed, given that you are Ed, I read this a couple of times to figure out if you’re kidding. But I see you’re not, and the uncharacteristic typos are further evidence of your state of mind right now. Damn! I hope it helped some that you were able to write about what happened and know that others will read it. Thinking about how many people go through experiences like this without that outlet, the mind reels …

  6. Same thing happened to me once. I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, passed out. But the cop said because I was w/in x number of feet from the steering wheel, he could charge me w/ DUI. To be a nice guy, he just charged me w/ DIP and put me in the tank. In the end, I didn’t even get a ticket for my troubles, just a free night in the city slammer. No one snored though so I slept a peaceful night and got out the next morning with a hangover and a greater sense of where to pass out (not in a car outside of a bar!).

    Sorry to hear about this, Ed. Damn cigarettes!

  7. Having lived in SF for many years, I find this shocking. Now that I live in Los Angeles, this is the expected treatment and so one is supposedly meant to be on guard…always. White, latino, black…it doesn’t matter. As you will see in my upcoming jury duty posts, I witnessed a bit of this machismo-without-explanation from the LAPD. This is something I’ve come to expect here. But certainly not in SF.

    As other commenters have noted, this was painful to read because it was, I’m sure, painful to endure. Unjust. Irrational. Immoral? I’m glad that you have a forum in which you can open up discussion on this very issue and possibly effect some change.

    What to do? You must find a way to fight this. Get it off your record and demand to know what on earth you were truly charged for. With, you know, as few f-bombs as possible.

  8. Oh, Ed. The bottom rung of suck. That’s just terrible.

    Now that you are safe at home, I would call the police department and get to the highest person you can — or perhaps HR? — and say you would like to make an official report of illegal treatment at the hands of these officers. Write yourself a script so you don’t get off track while you’re telling the story. If you don’t get the sympathy, reaction, and promise to investigate and expunge you deserve, then I would absolutely make it clear that my next step is calling a lawyer. Find someone who specializes in human rights cases and give them a call. There is no way they can defend this shit and you can get it off your record.

  9. p.s. Here’s some stuff at the ACLU that might help — this part seems to go along with my original theory:

    If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

  10. So very, very sorry! This sounded absolutely nightmarish. There ought to be a website that monitors incidents like this, but at the very least, after talking to a lawyer & police department, you might want to forward this account to boingboing.

  11. Almost every police department has some sort of “Citizen Review Panel” to handle complaints about officer contacts.

    They make it as difficult as possible to find the right person, but anger has its merits-it will fuel you for this chase.

    Fill out the report. Follow up regularly. Make no demands “I want those chuckleheads off the force!”. Simply ask, and continue to ask what the department intends to do about this incident.

    Some years back my young sister was stopped by a cop for not having her seat belt on in a car that was stopped at a stoplight. She explained the kids were lost (they were on their way to my house). The cop ticketed them…and didn’t give them directions. I was in a fury of course.

    I complained. They took the complaint in a windowless room and the officer wore his sunglasses. I think he might have been trying to be scary. I was too angry to find it funny till much much later.

    Needless to say the ticket was vacated but the officer was never reprimanded. He did have to show up in court and I did get to give him my two sentence description of what “protect and serve” means for good kids who are lost in a strange town.

    Good luck. Don’t lose energy for this.

  12. What an awful experience.

    I’d raise high holy Hell. Send a link to your blog entry to the Leah Garchiks and Jon Carrolls of the world. Your Supervisor should know. Raise a ruckus.

    Start the process at the Office of Citizen Complaints. According to the site, “What is a complaint?” First type of complaint: “On duty police conduct which violates federal, state or local laws, or which violates San Francisco Police Department policies or procedures. Examples include unnecessary force, unwarranted actions such as improper stops, searches or arrests, racial or sexual slurs, and discourtesy.”

    Certainly sounds like what you experienced.

    Best of luck.

  13. That’s awful! I hope you nail their asses to the wall.

    I hope you’re feeling a little better now.

    If there’s anything anyone can do to help, let us know.


  14. It’s obvious you are/were quite traumatized by this horrible incident. I’m sure that under no other circumstances would you have written “through” instead of “threw.”

    Please share the details of the case until your lawyer advises otherwise. And yes, you need to hire one. This arrest was in serious violation of your rights. You should contact the local media, too. The lawyer/media combo will force the SFPD to take notice.

  15. Oh man Ed. I’m sorry to hear that you went through this. You would be the last person I’d expect to be singled out for this sort of thing. Your story almost sounds like something out of a bad movie. I have to agree with everyone. Get your story out there, contact some people for help. There’s better things that cops can do while on duty – like protecting citizens against the real criminals!

  16. Jeez, I thought it was bad when I got the open liquor ticket. Yes, get a lawyer, don’t give up, follow up, make the bastards pay. I’ve done it for $120 for Verizon when it took two years; you can keep up the energy for this! And then come to Baltimore and I will feed you some crabs.

    Birnbaum–TRUE, but NOT SYMPATHETIC. 🙂

  17. What a truly horrible story. Ed, I am so sorry. Sounds like you’ve got to fight the good fight on this one, keep that fire of indignation burning. Op Ed in the Chron seems like a good place to start but for now, get some rest! Wendi

  18. I don’t know if fighting it is worth it — it’s a ticket, not a conviction, so it doesn’t go on your record. In fact, I’d recommend waiting a couple of years and then writing it in your recovery memoir as a big bust for something awful, like selling heroin to children….

  19. Contest it.
    Email Seth Abramson over at Suburban Ecstasies and get his advice.
    Turn it into a novel.

  20. My god, Ed. What a sickening thing. Sympathy, ire, and the hope that there’s a way to strike back at such petty thuggery.

  21. Wow. In an odd way, this makes me feel better since it happened to me this last Saturday night. Only, for me I was arrested for not drinking! I showed up at Le Colonial with 3 ladies (one of whom I had run into and chatted with a few times before, and who had given me her number) who had happened to run into in the Marina. I was wearing a bright yellow shirt since I had been at Oktoberfest earlier, not realizing it was a swanky bar. When I tried to finish the ice/melted ice in the plastic cup I arrived at the door with, I was told that I had violated their rules and could not enter the entire evening. I had already ditched my plans with my friends across the city and I truly wanted the digits of said woman since I was now single and able to ask her to dinner. So, I decided to hang out out front and spoke cigarettes with the smoking crowd and wait. Naturally, I asked a few more times as the night progressed whether they would relent and allow me inside. To shorten the story, the bouncers did not like me hanging around and told me to go home. I insisted that I was waiting for friends inside (I had hailed and payed for the taxi for us all to arrive) and that I would continue to wait. Numerous insults from them later including “loser”, “stupid”, and “bucktooth”, the ladies emerged from the bar. As I asked the lady for her number, which she gave me, the bouncer absolutely begain to slander me and told them I had been stalking ladies in the front. I tried to continue my conversation with the ladies but he talked over me and then physically barred me from talking/seeing them and escorted them out into the street to get a taxi. He continued to prevent me from speaking with the people I had arrived with, share a cab back with them, or even retrieve my hat that I had loaned a woman. I heard him say that the cops were going to come and take me away and I was incredulous and indignant. I stood my ground to see if I could actually be arrested for simply waiting about 2-2.5 hours outside a bar. Turns out I could. The meathead of a bouncer had been physically barring my way on the sidewalk and then the road as I tried to get around him….almost stepping on my toes to bar my way. The cops arrived and he said ‘hey guys, we need help’. I was the one who needed help. The cops said walk down the sidewalk a bit, and I tried to explain what had transpired….that I hadn’t been drinking…..that the bouncer had a serious vendetta, etc.
    If you know where Le Colonia is, you’ll know that is is a sizeable distance from the street corner (at least from the nightclub entrance). The officer told me to walk to the opposite side of that corner which is probably 100 yards away. I walked about 20 yards before turning my head as I explained that I had been trying to ask for my hat back from one of the ladies. The cop barked ‘That’s it!’, grabbed me, turned me around and cuffed me. I ABSOLUTELY could not believe what was going on. Of course everyone is innocent, but there is no conceivable way I was drunk and I most certainly am not a belligerent guy. As they put me in the cop car, I explained one last time that 1) I had arrived with those woman 2) She had just given me her number, so my advances were not unwelcome 3) the bouncer tried everything he could to prevent me from talking to her while hurling lies/insults 4) I had been smoking cigarettes and not drinking for 2.5 hours. The officer lowered his voice a bit and said ‘oh….then…you should have done what I said’.
    They drove me to columbus/broadway and threw me into a big bus where apparently they round up drunks for the drunk tank. A few minutes later I find myself in the back of the bus w/out police supervision with two gang members, one of whom kicks me in the head. The next time the officer arrives to dump two more people in the bus, he ignores my telling him I was just kicked in the face/head by one of his prisoners.
    They drive us to the police station, throw us in the holding pen, and leave us there for a while before processing the six or seven of us one by one. The door is open and multiple officers, including the supervising officer, ridicules “the drunks” and tells them to shut up. A few officers tell jokes about us, and the others laugh. I call out that I actually am not drunk and was arrested for “not drinking” and that they really should not incite the prisoners. The woman in charge tells me to shutup and that I’ll get it worse if I don’t pipe down, since I’m a “drunk”. Not that I “am drunk”, which I am not, but that I AM a “drunk”. For the first time, I lost my temper that night and said “I’ havent been drinking so I CAN’t be drunk. So you should stop insulting your prisoners, lady’. She didnt like that…some of the officers gasped a bit, but they did seem to stop at that point. Off to the drunk tank, where some of my fellow cell mates proceeded to vomit, relieve themselves in both forms, sleep, snore, mumble and/or hurl threats about killing people for the next hour or so. Four hours later and about five newcomers later, everyone in the cell is passed out and drooling on the floor except for me. I have been standing at the door/window for four hours watching the machinations that go on in the background of the police stations. I was intrigued, apalled, disgusted by what I saw, but more generally very unimpressed with the insitution as a whole.

    They served wheat bread with a separate smear of peanut butter on a piece of plastic around 7AM, and finally my time to go. To the end, the woman checking us out and returning our belongings was cruel and insulting. They should give the people who work there anger management counselling. She threatened to delay my release when I expressed that she had not made it clear to “go into the cell, four feet behind me and five feet to the right’ when she told me where to wait for my belongings. She had said ‘wait over there’ and vaguely pointed, which could have indicated any part of a large hallway.

    To Summarize:
    1) Two meathead bouncers at Le Colonial, and a limo driver friend of theirs who double parked in the middle of the road for over 20 minutes w/out any fare in sight, verbally lambasted me for over two hours for waiting outside there bar and socializing.
    2) I was making the best out of a lousy/arbitrary situation and actually enjoyed myself chatting with people mulling about outside. At no point was I rude or threatening to anyone I met, expect possibly in response to the insulting bouncers. People seemed to enjoy talking to me, as evidenced by their pursuing topics of conversation and one woman putting her business card in my shirt pocket. I
    3) Simply at the word from the bouncer, the police whisked me off to the paddy wagon and then jail. They never told me what I was being arrested for, and refused to explain what exactly was happening to me. They never asked me questions about what I might have had to drink, why I was there, who I was with, or whether I would like to go home. There simply was no due process, and the process seemed irreversible once they put the handcuffs on….even though they left me to rot in the paddywagon for 45 minutes or so on Columbus later on.
    *I am sure this last statement is obvious to most of you. When the bouncer/bar tells you to do something, you had better do it because the cops will do their bidding 100% of the time. I suppose that is business. I couldn’t believe, though, that the police would not even take 2 minutes to ascertain the situation and to figure out the background. Researching code 647FPC/M Drunk RWS, I did not exhibit any threat to anyone and I was not obstructing public roadways/sidewalks. Plus I wasn’t drunk. There is no conceivable way I broke the law. Now I have a cryptic sheet of paper I was given when released from jail that says ‘if you are released, you are to appear in court on the date and time specified. failure to appear may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest or other additional penalities’. There a slew of numbers on this sheet, which may or not be dates/times. They seem to use some sort of old VAX system, that probably hasnt been updated in 20 years. I truly cannot figure out the format, which I believe is partially intentional. My favorite part is the last line that says ‘for bail and/or court information phone 553-9394. FOR O.R. Phone 552-2202’. Both numbers simply ring and ring and ring. I suppose I’ll try for the third day tomorrow?

    Sorry for the disjointed nature of this rant. I’m mad about what happened. I’m mad that the bouncer was able to create such a ruckus outside the bar and villianize me in front of a potential romantic interest. I’m mad that I had to spend the night in jail in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. I’m mad the officer in the paddywagon did nothing when I told him I was kicked in the head and showed him what I later found to be a cut/bruise on my cheek. And I’m mad that I have little to no recourse here. The cops will not be be chastised, nor will they change their behavior. The bouncers will continue to be cretans and mistreat people at their discretion. I might possibly sue if I were rich, but I am not. Plus, the paperwork, court appearances, etc, would cost too much since I’m an hourly employee. Filing a complaint would waste more of my time, and possibly get me listed in some sort of watchlist.

    America? San Francisco? Some of you are surprised this would happen in SF? From casual observations over the past 10 years and from reading the local newspaper almost every day, I would suggest looking a bit deeper and perhaps taking off the rosy sunglasses.

    Thanks for your time…and for giving me this space to vent a bit. I do feel better already.

  22. all pig are corrurpt eviel just read the bible crooks are crooks wait till the boys come home from army they all will be cops and take over us hope i am dead i hate you copsu ruined my life

  23. Very interesting take on things….I am amazed at how your story varied so much from what really happened. (Must have forgoten what really happened inside the bar huh?) Yes I was there and witnessed the whole thing. Always amazes me that people like you can talk so much shit and have ala these idiots side with you.

  24. Dear Question: I never set foot inside a bar that night. I was mastering podcasts that night, stepped outside for a cigarette (back when I still smoked), and the cops harassed me. If you were one of the cops who harassed me, then this case of mistaken identity still doesn’t excuse your behavior. But it seems as if you are probably confusing this with something else.

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