By Alex Emslie
Updated 10 a.m. Thursday, June 4
Arshad Razzak’s sentencing for four federal criminal charges was postponed Tuesday for a year to allow the former San Francisco plainclothes narcotics officer to develop training materials for the Police Department.
“This is an opportunity to make some good come out of this, both for the SFPD and for Mr. Razzak,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Hemann at Razzak’s sentence status hearing.
Hemann said Razzak’s contribution to SFPD training for both new recruits and experienced officers could help them “avoid some of the pitfalls Mr. Razzak found himself in.”
A federal jury convicted Razzak, 42, in January of conspiracy against civil rights, deprivation of rights under the color of law, and two counts of falsification of records. He and three other Southern District plainclothes officers conspired to illegally search a room at the Henry Hotel, a single-room-occupancy hotel on San Francisco’s Sixth Street, prosecutors said.
The federal criminal charges stemmed from the San Francisco Public Defender’s release of surveillance video from a Dec. 23, 2010, raid of Room 504 at the Henry Hotel.
Matt Gonzalez, chief attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, was flummoxed by Razzak’s sentencing postponement, and the reason for it.
“The Police Department should be capable of training its officers not to violate the law without the help of a convicted police officer who engaged in that conduct,” he said, adding that the length of the postponement is an insult to the public. “Entire Hollywood movies get made in a shorter time period.”
Razzak’s partner was less-experienced former SFPD Officer Richard Yick, who was acquitted of all charges. Two more plainclothes officers who specialized in auto burglary, Arthur Madrid and Robert Forenis, met Razzak and Yick outside the Henry Hotel to assist in the raid.
Madrid was in the lead of the four officers when they arrived at Room 504, and the video shows him immediately inserting a key into the door. Then all four enter. They found a cache of heroin and needles strewn about the room, and arrested Carlos Hutcherson for possession of approximately 65 grams of heroin.
But to enter the room, officers would have needed a search warrant, or some set of circumstances that created an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. Razzak wrote in a police report about the incident that another occupant, Jessica Richmond, consented to a search after she answered a knock at the door. The surveillance video contradicted that account.
Prosecutors gave Madrid immunity in exchange for his testimony in the case. Forenis was never charged. Raul Eric Elias was indicted with Razzak and Yick for his involvement in a separate raid called into question by surveillance video. Elias’ prosecution has been deferred and could eventually be dismissed.
Razzak’s defense attorney, Michael Rains, said his client’s misdeeds were driven not by motivation for personal gain, but by pressure to satisfy a “numbers-driven regime driving officers to produce, produce, produce [arrests].”
Gonzalez said that’s not a consideration afforded to most people facing a prison sentence.
“There are criminal defendants being charged with crimes every day that can talk about the pressures that they have,” he said, “and I just don’t see anybody proposing that they help make training videos so that regular citizens don’t fall prey to the pressures that are out in society. It’s not convincing to me.”
Rains said the SFPD training division was on board with the idea.
“Any video for training purposes that would educate our Police Department on any topic is certainly beneficial,” SFPD spokesman Officer Albie Esparza wrote in an email response. “We never stop learning in life, and enriching our lives/officers/department is a win win for all, including the public by having a better educated police force.”
The department is “working closely” with the U.S. Attorney’s office on the next steps for the video’s production, Esparza wrote, and SFPD is awaiting further direction from prosecutors and the court.
Rains said the training materials would likely focus on something that relates to the trial, “what the video shows, what the report said, and the disparity between the two.”
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Seeborg said during Razzak’s sentence status hearing Tuesday that he agreed with prosecutors and Rains that Razzak’s case was very different from another federal corruption trial involving SFPD plainclothes officers convicted of stealing money and property from drug suspects.
But even though he granted the postponement, Seeborg said it shouldn’t “detract from the fact that a jury did convict in this case.”
“Mr. Razzak acknowledged, whatever pressures he was under, the conduct was wrong,” Seeborg said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Hemann said federal sentencing guidelines dictate a prison sentence of 41 to 51 months. Rains said a federal probation officer recommended a 32-month sentence, but his actual sentence could be much shorter.
“It depends on what the government feels the extent of his cooperation is,” he said, “and ultimately it’s the judge’s determination.”
This report was updated to include a response from the San Francisco Police Department.