- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Police Chief Earl Sanders has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing an internal probe of three off-duty officers accused of assaulting two men outside a bar.
Six of his top aides entered the same plea Tuesday to the felony obstruction-of-justice charges.
Chief Sanders has taken medical leave and given up day-to-day control of the department, and the six top deputies have been suspended without pay. The departures have left the department in disarray.
The three young officers, accused of beating up two men after they refused to hand over their leftover steak fajitas late one night in November, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony assault charges.
An indictment released Tuesday accuses Chief Sanders of obstructing the department's internal probe into the incident by transferring the investigator who had been conducting it.
"Innocent means you're innocent, and we'll prove he's innocent," said Phil Ryan, one of Chief Sanders' attorneys, after Tuesday's arraignment. "He's had his entire command staff forced out by a bogus indictment."
District Attorney Terence Hallinan has said that Lt. Joe Dutto was prevented from thoroughly investigating the incident.
According to the indictment, the other six officers frustrated Lt. Dutto by ordering him to submit questions in writing and denying him access to some of the officers, their cell-phone records and disciplinary histories.
Mr. Hallinan did not elaborate on the indictment Tuesday. His spokesman, Mark MacNamara, suggested that the meat of the accusations is contained in grand jury transcripts that have not yet been unsealed.
All 10 men are scheduled to be tried April 18.
Mayor Willie Brown, who has supported longtime friend Chief Sanders and the police investigation into the Nov. 20 incident, has called the commanders' decision to step aside courageous. He accused Mr. Hallinan of acting on political grudges rather than pursuing actual crimes.
The three officers accused of involvement in the street brawl have been suspended without pay, said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens.
The department's day-to-day affairs are being overseen by Heather Fong, who was elevated to acting assistant chief. She replaced Alex Fagan Sr., one of the indicted commanders whose son, a rookie officer, is accused of involvement in the fight.
"Chief Sanders is our chief of police. He has some health problems at this time," Chief Fong said at a news conference yesterday. "He's available for us to confer with if necessary."

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