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Turning the Tables 

Police have made a number of arrests and seizures of DJ equipment at underground parties and clubs. Is it enforcement or harassment?

Wednesday, Mar 17 2010
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When she asked him what he was doing, she claims that he told her, "I'm going to single-handedly shut down every illegal party. We are a new task force, and this is our primary goal, to shut down these parties."

One of Credible's friends protested that one of the laptops belonged to his roommate. Bertrand allegedly responded, "You're never going to see this property again."

Credible got her laptop back a month later after the intervention of Jennifer Granick, an attorney from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who called the seizures "illegal" and "improper."

In the wake of a January meeting involving Granick, Gascón, and other city officials, the SFPD instituted a new policy mandating the presence of a supervising officer at busts of illegal parties and thorough documentation of any seized property.

"We're not saying anything was done wrong at the time," said Officer Boaz Mariles, an SFPD spokesman. "The officers acted as per the evidence code. Now we're just trying to take a step back. Maybe there are questions at the scene that needed to be answered, that the supervisors would need to address ... more interaction with the community."

Advocates of San Francisco's underground music scene, which is largely centered in SOMA, said the confiscations have had a chilling effect on parties, which they say are a crucial part of the city's culture and an important incubator for new talent.

"If SFPD's goal has been to stop arts activity in the neighborhood, they've succeeded," SOMA arts space activist Skot Kuiper said. He publicly called out Bertrand as a "blight" on the police department during a Board of Supervisors meeting on Feb. 9, the same day a "call the mayor" campaign orchestrated by supporters in front of City Hall protested the crackdown on underground parties.

"I've never known a more universally hated person in a neighborhood" than Bertrand, he said in an interview.

Jim Meko, a SOMA community activist and a member of the Entertainment Commission, said he has little sympathy for artists who throw illegal parties and then are shocked when the police bust them. He doesn't buy into what some have described as "the War on Fun."

"The misbehavior in the entertainment community got so institutionalized that the first thing they do is go running to the Board of Supervisors, expecting them to sanction [parties]," he said.

Meko calls himself "probably the police department's best friend on the Entertainment Commission." But, he said, Bertrand's name "has come up so frequently that I would have to question what his motives are. ... The burden on him is to justify what the hell he's trying to accomplish."

In a city like San Francisco, Meko said, the ideal is police enforcement that understands that nightclub noise and crowds are part of city life, and cops who can take a measured approach to keeping them in line.

But "there are elements in the police department that go beyond overzealous, that are just getting off on making life miserable for some venues."

As Meko noted, the sheer volume of anecdotal complaints racked up by Bertrand and Ott in six months is hard to ignore. Even if the two are being villainized by melodramatic nightlife activists, they seem to have given their critics plenty of ammunition.


The loudest complaints against Bertrand and Ott come from a cluster of clubs on 11th Street. This stretch between Folsom and Harrison draws an eclectic crowd: On a given night, there may be younger fans from all-ages rock shows at Slim's, partygoers from Mist's Asian or hip-hop events, guys in pirate hats for DNA Lounge's Bootie Night, or even scantily clad clowns for its Bohemian Carnival.

The owners of four 11th Street venues — DNA, Mist, Butter, and one shuttered club, Caliente — have all gone on the record with SF Weekly with complaints against Bertrand and Ott. (Staff from two other SOMA nightclubs described similar complaints, but said they were unwilling to go on the record for fear of being targeted. )

The complaints describe Bertrand and Ott as two officers on a power trip who target certain clubs, make unreasonable inspections, and verbally abuse security and staff.

Mike Quan, owner of Mist, said that Bertrand and Ott had been visiting his club since September, and that in January and early February they showed up every weekend. Quan said the pair repeatedly demanded to see his permits, even though they knew they were valid from previous checks.

One time, Quan alleges, Ott approached a mature-looking man on the dancefloor, demanded to see his ID, noted his information, and then walked away. Floor manager Hanh Nguyen said that at least once, Bertrand and Ott came in at the peak of a busy weekend night, got out their flashlights, and insisted on checking all the alcohol bottles at the bar for bugs — even though that meant putting the bar out of service in the middle of the party.

Quan's security staff say that Bertrand and Ott have chastised them for not keeping the club's sidewalks clear, even at 1:45 a.m., as people are leaving for the night. Quan's head of security said this was the harshest police enforcement he's seen in 10 years in the business. One night, Quan claims, Ott told him that she had shut down his other clubs and that Mist would be next.

Quan and his staff have a history with Bertrand and Ott: Last June, the two officers used an undercover sting to bust the Room, Quan's club on Sixth Street, for an illegal expansion downstairs. (Quan claims he had secured appropriate planning permission, but that there was a problem with the paperwork.) As well as confiscating most of the stock in the downstairs bar, Nguyen said, Bertrand and Ott poured out an estimated 24 to 30 bottles of alcohol that were already open after Ott claimed there were fruit flies in one of them. They also arrested a 31-year-old bartender who had left his ID at home, even though Quan says he offered to show them a copy he had in his office.

About The Author

Lois Beckett

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