SAN FRANCISCO — In the second firing of its kind in the past two months, a federal judge ruled that San Francisco police had no authority to search a man in a 2019 investigation that found a firearm in a vehicle, it appears from court records.
U.S. District Judge Edward Chen’s ruling last month led to the dismissal of charges against a San Francisco resident, whom authorities described as a “high-ranking” member of a Southern California gang. In his 20-page ruling, Chen found that police had obtained a vague description of “a black man in a black coat” and used it to illegally search the defendant and two others in a vehicle.
“The mere fact of a black man in a black jacket — without any indication that he was in a car, about to enter a car, or even standing in the parking lot — is insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion in the absence of any predictive information. Chen wrote, adding that police had been called to a report of 100 people involved in a fight, but what they found — three men in a Honda Civic in the general area — was “not in line” with the report of the 911 caller.
The 911 caller reported seeing a major fight and that three people appeared armed and looking for trouble. In court documents attempting to justify the search, federal prosecutors wrote that police “observed three men matching the descriptions in a Honda Civic preparing to leave the parking lot” where the fight took place, and that the defendant told police gave a false name justifies his arrest. A firearm was found under a seat in the Honda, they wrote.
The defendant had been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 15 years in prison upon conviction.
Defense attorney, assistant federal defense attorney Elisse LaRouche argued in a motion to suppress the search that “when a significant number of people share a specific characteristic, such as their ethnic appearance and a black coat, that characteristic has little to no evidence.” value for purposes of reasonable suspicion analysis.”
It is the second time in two months that prosecutors have dismissed a case over allegations that the SFPD conducted an illegal search. Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney’s office dismissed federal gun charges just 10 days after a defense attorney charged the officers with conducting an illegal search based on an illegal arrest, in a case in which the officers allegedly the defendant had lied about having an arrest warrant. order to detain him.
In February 2021, a federal judge dropped a gun case by ruling that San Francisco officers had violated the Fourth Amendment during a search of a Mercedes. Last May, a Richmond rapper’s gun charges were dismissed days before a hearing in which a federal judge was set to rule on a motion charging Richmond police with an illegal search.
Last year, federal prosecutors dropped more than a dozen pending and pending prosecutions involving officers in a massive criminal investigation against law enforcement officers in Pittsburg and Antioch. In that ongoing investigation, at least eight officers from Antioch and two from Pittsburg were charged with a range of crimes related to dishonesty, including violent civil rights violations, fraudulently obtaining college degrees for incentives and taking bribes. In a separate but related move, Contra Costa prosecutors dropped an estimated three dozen cases.