Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It


Wednesday, Dec 16 1998

The Squashing of Tippy Mazzucco
Over at the District Attorney's Office, it seems they've developed a new twist to an old saw. In Terry Hallinan's shop, the old saying has been changed to something like this: Fighting crime doesn't pay.

It sure didn't pay for gang prosecutor Thomas "Tippy" Mazzucco, anyway.
Mazzucco, who, most everyone acknowledges, is a diligent, dedicated, and successful crime-fighter, was in charge of an Oct. 30 raid conducted by local and federal agencies at the Marcus Garvey/MLK projects in the Western Addition, at Steiner and Eddy. The operation targeted the so-called Knock Out Posse, who had terrorized project residents for well over a year with their crack dealing.

The raid was part of a national effort, launched by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, aimed at ending decades of neglect, and addressing the impact crack-dealing has on people who live in public housing.

Aside from complaints by a few residents that they were unnecessarily detained and frightened -- OK, a charging pit bull was shot and killed -- the raid was a success. Eleven alleged members of the Knock Out Posse are now facing the possibility of lengthy prison sentences, and some semblance of sanity has been restored to the projects.

Federal officials felt the raid showed they'd finally found the right crime-fighting model, and, more important, the right man to execute it at a local level. The raid seemed to mark the achievement of a long-standing goal.

And what was Tippy Mazzucco's reward?
He received an undignified demotion to a post in the District Attorney's Office generally reserved for people who are being invited to resign. After 11 years as a prosecutor, he was sent to handle routine preliminary hearings for criminal cases -- a job usually inflicted only on rookies straight out of law school. And if that weren't enough, he's facing a possible $10,000-a-year cut in salary.

Why, you ask?
Well, the best I can tell, Tippy Mazzucco has been stepped on because of a bad case of racial politics in the District Attorney's Office, amplified by two facts: 1) District Attorney Terry Hallinan has always been an erratic hothead. 2) Increasingly, Terry Hallinan is behaving like a complete fool.

Tippy Mazzucco may have led a successful raid against a vicious gang, but he also committed a horrible crime. At least, the crime has been portrayed as horrible inside Terry Hallinan's District Attorney's Office. The crime was this: Mazzucco did not notify the chief of the narcotics division of the District Attorney's Office, one Vernon Grigg, of the time and date of the Knock Out Posse raid.

Such a breach of protocol is not usually considered a great and horrible crime deserving of serious or long-lasting punishment. And in this case, when you break the situation down and get to the truth, there was no breach of protocol, and therefore no crime at all.

So far, though, the truth hasn't helped Mazzucco. But who knows? Maybe making the truth more widely known will.

So here's the truth, in four easy steps:
First: The Knock Out Posse operation was run out of the DA's gang unit. The narcotics detail was not in charge of the raid, so there was no special need for the head of narcotics to know of it.

Second: If a notification of the head of narcotics were required, it would not be Mazzucco's responsibility to make it.

Third: Mazzucco told all the appropriate superiors in the chain of command -- his boss in the gang unit, George Butterworth, and the district attorney's second-in-command, Richard Iglehart -- when the raid was going down.

And fourth and most interesting: Tippy Mazzucco told his superiors that he was not informing Grigg about the raid, and they all signed off on the notifications Mazzucco had made.

The raid went down. It was hailed as a success (except for the traditional whining of police brutality activists). And everything seemed fine. For a short time.

Vernon Grigg is a man of overweening ambition who also happens to have a profound lack of prosecutorial experience. Such ambitious, inexperienced men usually don't like it very much when they are cut out of the loop, regardless of the reason or justification. Grigg certainly didn't like being left out of the Knock Out Posse raid.

But to understand how much he didn't like it, you need to understand a bit more about Vernon Grigg. So let me tell you a little story.

About a year ago, I called Grigg and asked him if he would help me with a feature I wanted to do on one of Hallinan's pet projects, Mentor Court, a diversion program for low-level drug dealers. Grigg was overseeing the project.

He said he would be happy to meet with me about the program, but he had a suggestion for a better and more newsworthy story.

Oh, what could that be? I asked.
"Me," Grigg said.
You? I asked quizzically, not quite sure I had heard him right.

"Yeah, me," he reiterated with increased confidence. "Thirty-two years old. African-American. In charge of the narcotics division of a major city's District Attorney's Office. That's a great story, right?"

I was without words. I think I mumbled something about how I would like to wait a year or so to see how he performed, before writing a story about him. After I told him I wasn't interested in profiling him, he declined to cooperate on a Mentor Court story, apparently deciding that if it wasn't about him, it wasn't worth his time.

Vernon Grigg surely couldn't have anticipated, then, that just enough time would have passed for me to write about him, now.

A high-ranking SFPD source says Grigg was informed about every step in the yearlong investigation into drug dealing at the Marcus Garvey/MLK projects.

When it came down to the day of the raid, though, it was decided that Grigg would not be informed. It was an easy decision to make; there was no operational reason to tell him. He had no specific role to play in the raid. And the arguments in favor of not telling him were compelling, if not conclusive.

About The Author

George Cothran


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"