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Fajita the Night 

Were the cops really innocent of assault, or is our DA's Office just lame?

Wednesday, Apr 6 2005
The criminal phase of the infamous Fajitagate trial finally concluded last week, when Alex Fagan Jr., the last of three former San Francisco police officers accused of attacking two men in an off-duty dispute over takeout fajitas, was acquitted of aggravated assault and battery charges. It was the third loss for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office in the criminal cases stemming from the incident. Two other officers were acquitted in November, and former DA Terence Hallinan long ago dropped grand jury indictments against several of the department's top brass. Nevertheless, the case shook the city and caused widespread personnel changes within the Police Department, leading to the resignations of two police chiefs, one of them Alex Fagan Sr., the father of one of the accused officers. Indeed, the department has found itself the subject of scathing internal investigations and nationwide scrutiny, but the DA's Office's lack of success in its prosecutions means that none of the officers involved in the initial incident or the alleged cover-up will face criminal consequences. Are you an apologist for the Fajitagate cops? Take our quiz and find out!

1) The scandal was sparked by a 2:30 a.m. fight in November 2002, when several off-duty officers approached a pair of young men leaving the Blue Light Saloon at Laguna and Union streets. The officers allegedly taunted one man for wearing a Yankees cap, and demanded that the men hand over a to-go container of steak fajitas. A scuffle ensued, eventually ending in blood and a 911 call; when police responded, however, they failed to conduct alcohol or blood tests on the off-duty officers, and didn't have the victims identify their assailants, who showed up for questioning at the police station almost two hours after the incident. At that point, according to the investigating officer, the off-duty cops "appeared to be sober. I couldn't say for sure." What do you make of this episode?

A) Next time I'm pulled over, I'm gonna try that: "But officer, I appear to be sober. You can't say for sure."

B) It's pretty understandable, really. The drunken lust for hot steak fajitas at 2:30 a.m. does things to a man.

C) The gall! Wearing a Yankees cap in San Francisco! What did he expect but an ass-kicking?

2) Before stepping down to go on disability leave, ex-Chief of Police Earl Sanders drew the ire of the District Attorney's Office for allegedly dragging his feet in complying with requests for information. Sanders, however, compared criticism of the investigation to criticism of Jesus Christ, saying, "We are going into one of our major holiday seasons, to celebrate the birth of a leader of the religious world. And I do recall in my readings that he was criticized." What do you think of Sanders' analogy?

A) Sorry, I just can't see Jesus hindering a police brutality investigation.

B) Well, if you're gonna recall anything, I guess you should recall that he was criticized.

C) Seems apt. And let's be honest, the "compare yourself to Jesus" defense never fails.

3) In the summer of 2003, a Superior Court judge cleared Sanders and Fagan Sr. of the indictments accusing them of conspiring to obstruct justice in the investigation, and blasted Hallinan for his failure to amass evidence. Prosecutors had dropped charges against Sanders earlier in the year -- after Hallinan had flatly told the grand jury he couldn't prove a conspiracy case -- but had stopped short of declaring the ex-chief not guilty, saying only that he was "factually innocent." What does the embarrassing episode suggest to you about the San Francisco District Attorney's Office?

A) That it's "factually incompetent."

B) Hmm ... I think we need a little less pot-smoking, a little more prosecuting.

C) What have I been telling you? Hallinan never could prove who started a drunken brawl. Unless, of course, it was him.

4) In comments appearing in an Associated Press story that he later argued were taken out of context, former Mayor Willie Brown defended his Police Department during its investigation by saying, "If there's mutual combat, all of us admit we were there and all of us admit we participated. There's no crime scene to investigate. ... You don't need to find out who the zodiac killer is in this." What did you think of his statement?

A) But, Willie, there was a crime scene to investigate. Remember?

B) Actually, I think we should find out who the Zodiac Killer is, but maybe that's just me.

C) The Zodiac Killer on the loose again?!? The SFPD is just the outfit to nab him!

5) A confidential memo leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle in February 2003, during the height of grand jury and internal police investigations, revealed that Fagan Jr.'s staff sergeant had warned her supervisors about the rookie cop's behavior. "Officer Fagan has displayed a pattern with lack of anger management, not being respectful of supervisors, not following direct orders from supervisors, driving too fast and treating the public unprofessionally," wrote Sgt. Vickie Stansberry. If you were his supervisor, what would you have done about the young police officer?

A) If I were his dad, you mean? Or if this were a real police department, and he had an actual boss?

B) Hope to God nobody's caught him on videotape.

C) What's the big deal? He sounds like perfectly good cop material to me. (Bonus point for being a huge Dirty Harry fan.)

6) Shortly after taking office, Mayor Gavin Newsom replaced Alex Fagan Sr. as chief with Heather Fong, and appointed Fagan Sr. to head the city's Office of Emergency Services & Homeland Security. Fagan Sr. -- who'd been suspended twice before in his police career -- resigned from that post last spring, however, after getting into a much-publicized screaming match with his son at a lounge in Scottsdale, Ariz. The scuffle ended with both men in handcuffs and the younger Fagan charged with punching a security guard and threatening police officers. How do you explain the actions of the Fagans?

A) You know what they say: You can take the Fagans out of a drunken fracas, but you can't take the drunken fracas out of the Fagans.

B) Well, in light of the events that triggered the brawl over the fajitas, I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for why the Fagans were fighting again.

C) Boys will be boys.

7) The alleged brutality at the center of the Fajitagate scandal, a contrast with the laid-back reputation of San Francisco's Police Department, helped the story attract media attention nationwide. Even The New Yorker weighed in on the causes and effects of the scandal, with writer Jeffrey Toobin offering observations on the incestuous nature of S.F.'s political structure. Which of the following statements, from a Q&A with Toobin on the magazine's Web site, do you find the most typically condescending in its appraisal of the city and its response to Fajitagate?

A) "Many people think of San Francisco as a big city, but it sure started to look like a small town."

B) "I think it's more a story about the eccentricity of San Francisco than anything else. I think Willie Brown had it about right when he told me, 'The whole thing is odd.'"

C) "One of the bizarre elements of this investigation -- and there were many -- was that prosecutors in the grand jury asked the chef who cooked the fajitas how he made them. (And my piece includes his recipe!)"

How to score:

Score zero points for every "A" answer, one point for every "B," and two points for every "C."

0-6 points: Does this mean the cops are actually going to start investigating stolen cars and break-ins, or is that not the kind of departmental reform we're talking about?

7-10 points: To those on the fence, think about it: Who would make up a story about getting the shit kicked out of them over takeout Mexican food?

11-14 points: You're right, it is us against the terrorists, and those two young men flaunting their fajitas were clearly up to no good. You can have your badge and gun back now.

About The Author

Matt Palmquist


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