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Monday, June 8, 2009

Friends, Family of Slain Frenchman Hugues de la Plaza Threaten to Sue City For Negligence

Posted By on Mon, Jun 8, 2009 at 11:59 AM

click to enlarge Hugues de la Plaza
  • Hugues de la Plaza
Two years have come and gone since Hugues de la Plaza was found dead in his blood-stained Hayes Valley apartment. He had been stabbed twice in his torso and once in the throat, and the knife was nowhere to be found -- and witnesses reported the door repeatedly slamming at 2:30 in the morning. Astoundingly, the San Francisco Police Department's operating theory was suicide -- it was postulated that the 36-year-old may have taken the time to toss the knife out the window, where someone carted it off to parts unknown.

What followed was a series of investigative moves more befitting a banana republic guns-but-no-shoes security force than a major metropolitan police department. A federal court ruling actually allowed French investigators to intercede at the behest of de la Plaza's parents and cart critical evidence back to France. While San Francisco's Medical Examiner ruled the cause of death "undetermined," the French in January unambiguously ruled this was a murder. It wasn't until February of this year that the SFPD deigned to admit that suicide was an unlikely hypothesis

Now the family and friends of de la Plaza who have been holding rallies and vigils to keep his unsolved case in the public eye have devised another means of forcing the city to take action: They propose banding together with families of other cases allegedly bungled by the SFPD and suing the city for negligence.

Melissa Nix, a former girlfriend of de la Plaza's who has been the driving force behind the campaign to properly investigate his murder, said the results of a pending Office of Citizen Complaints investigation will go a long way toward determining if they have an actionable case.

"We're not interested in the money. All we care about is accountability and we haven't been able to get any," she says. "It seems legal action is the only thing that might get the attention of the city's leaders."

Nix filed a complaint with the OCC in February of 2008; she says an investigation commenced in February of this year. That report is scheduled to be released in the coming days and weeks -- and if it hammers home the claims Nix and others have made about police sloppiness and incompetence, she feels it could provide grounds for legal action.

The possibility of coughing up a settlement, Nix says, could force the city to confront that "this is a systemic problem." She's already communicated with the survivors of several other San Francisco murder victims whose killers were never brought to justice and would like "an explanation from [District Attorney] Kamala Harris and Police Chief Heather Fong as to how this could happen" and "an apology from the mayor would be nice. ... I'd like some public accountability"

De la Plaza's family has used Hugues' insurance money to offer a $100,000 reward in this case -- which, obviously, hasn't yet led to much.

Speaking via a translator, de la Plaza's father, François, told SF Weekly in February that he still thinks it is possible to catch his son's murderer -- but not without the help of the SFPD.

"The SFPD may not have done their job well, but we are not trying to

get back at them," he said. "They can still help us toward our objective of

finding the murderer. According to the French police, there is still a

lot to do. There is still a lot of analysis they can do and a lot of

leads to follow up."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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