- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

SAN FRANCISCO, March 7 (UPI) — A San Francisco grand jury apparently decided to indict the city's police chief and other top commanders despite the district attorney's admission that there was little hard evidence of a cover-up, transcripts of the hearing revealed.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Friday that transcripts it obtained of the proceedings indicated that District Attorney Terence Hallinan did not aggressively pursue the indictment of Chief Earl Sanders and his second in command, who were charged with obstructing the probe of a reported street fight involving three off-duty officers.

"If they want to indict someone, they are going to indict them whether you want them to or not," Hallinan told the newspaper when asked about the transcripts of the Feb. 27 hearing in which prosecutors summed up their case.

Sanders was one of seven officers indicted later that evening on charges they stonewalled an internal investigation into the Nov. 20 fracas that allegedly involved off-duty rookie officer Alex Fagan Jr., son of Assistant Chief Alex Fagan, the No. 2 man in the department.

The defendants, who also include two deputy chiefs, a captain, a lieutenant and a sergeant, have denied the allegation. They have stepped aside, however, while the case is resolved.

A tentative trial date has been set for April 18.

Also charged in connection with the actual fight was the trio of young officers who allegedly roughed up two passersby at around 2:30 a.m. outside a bar on the city's popular Union Street.

The indictments have riled Mayor Willie Brown, who appointed Sanders to office, and raised suspicions that Hallinan was trying to railroad Sanders to embarrass Brown or fuel his own future political aspirations. Hallinan and Brown were opponents in the last mayoral election.

Grand jury proceedings are by law secret and the district attorney's office made no direct comment on the hearing in question, however the transcript reviewed by the Chronicle showed that prosecutors told the 19 jurors that they probably did not have enough evidence to support the conspiracy charges.

"At this time we are not satisfied that we can sustain the requisite burden of proof with respect to the conspiracy allegation, and we will not be asking for a determination with respect to conspiracy," prosecutor Al Murray told the 19-member panel.

The revelation of the transcripts immediately brought out calls for the dismissal of the charges against the senior officers from their attorneys.

"In my opinion, the district attorney has an absolute moral and ethical obligation not to prosecute a case in which he does not feel that he can sustain his burden of proof," declared Bill Fazio, who represents Capt. Greg Corrales. "He shouldn't have proceeded."

Sanders' attorney, John Burris, questioned whether or not the conspiracy allegations should have been raised in the grand jury hearing at all.

"It raises real questions about their motivation," he told the newspaper. "The danger and harm to the careers of these men was so profound and devastating. You should never do something like this without having substantial evidence."

Hallinan has candidly admitted he was surprised at the scope of the indictment, however he was prepared to prosecute Sanders and the other brass nevertheless. He also rejected the characterization of the grand jury as a runaway train that indicted the chief and the other officers without sufficient evidence.

"I saw people on TV saying they (a grand jury) would indict a ham sandwich, and that's not like a grand jury at all," Hallinan said. "They are real independent, real smart. You can't say they ran away."

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