Lawsuit accuses Calif. police of improper search

SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco police are facing a second $1 million federal civil rights lawsuit over an allegedly unwarranted and invasive search of two men in the South of Market neighborhood.

Eric Jones and Chris Gascon said plainclothes Officers Gregory Buhagiar and Arshad Razzak stuck their fingers down the young men's pants and touched them during a stop near Sixth and Howard streets Dec. 27, 2006, in a search for drugs or contraband. Jones was 18 and Gascon was 17 at the time.

Jones, who filed suit in January, told the officers that he wasn't on probation or parole and that police had no cause to search him. Buhagiar replied that he didn't care, according to the suit and Jones' attorney, Ben Nisenbaum.

According to Nisenbaum, Buhagiar told Jones, "I know you have drugs on you. ... I can tell by the way your heart is beating." The officers found no drugs, the suit said.

When Jones asked the officers for a pen and paper, one told him that he could make a report of the incident at 850 Bryant St. - the location of the Hall of Justice - but that he would have an unpleasant day if he did, the suit said.

City officials have denied the officers did anything wrong. Gascon was a known gang member, and police feared that Jones, who had an arrest record for a weapons charge, was a hit man seeking to avenge the earlier shooting of another gang member, Deputy City Attorney Meredith Osborn wrote in a court filing.

Osborn wrote that the searches had been conducted over the men's clothing and amounted to "a protective frisk ... for officer safety."

Gascon filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Both suits name the city, Police Chief Heather Fong, Buhagiar and Razzak.

Like Jones, Gascon is seeking $1 million in damages.

Razzak is a 13-year veteran of the force, and Buhagiar has been on the job for seven years.

Copyright 2008 San Francisco Chronicle

No comments: