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Did SFPD needlessly hound a rival officer while she lay dying of cancer? 

Wednesday, May 19 2010

Last Halloween, Officer Jane Warner and her patrol partner, Antjuan Taswell, walked along the closed-off roads around Castro and 17th streets, greeting revelers and merchants, watching out for brawlers, and otherwise helping keep the peace.

"I was walking right along beside her when Sergeant Craig Tom observed us," Taswell says. "Apparently he saw seven points on the embroidered star on my jacket and Jane's jacket."

That's seven points instead of six. The difference is supposed to formally distinguish regular sworn San Francisco police officers, such as Tom, from Taswell and Warner, members of a little-known security force that has been enshrined in the City Charter since the Gold Rush. Sworn cops get stars with seven points; specials get stars with six. Known as the San Francisco Patrol Special Police — or "specials," for short — they are uniquely allowed to claim neighborhood territories, or beats, where they can charge clients for security services.

For seven years, Warner was the public face of the specials, serving as president of the 29-member association, appearing regularly at Police Commission meetings, and lobbying supervisors to represent her troops' interests in a decades-old battle in which specials say police officers have sought to eliminate them.

At issue are millions of dollars in private fees for police services. Moonlighting SFPD officers have earned around $10 million yearly providing extra security for private clients who pay $100 per hour under a special program. Patrol specials have historically been in on the action, charging half as much to patrol restaurants, schools, stores, and protect neighborhood associations and other organizations. "They'd like to put us out of our misery entirely," Warner told SF Weekly reporter Ron Russell in a June 2008 story about her struggle to resist what she saw as SFPD efforts to eradicate the specials.The SFPD is rid of Warner now. She died May 8 of cancer. But not before she was subjected to actions that friends, her fellow patrol special officers, and her attorney believe were part of a campaign of retaliation that continued until shortly before her death. That purportedly included sending a police officer to her home last month to deliver formal misconduct charges from the department's Management Control Division while she was on her deathbed.

Warner's offenses: Tom allegedly observed her jaywalking while crossing Market Street on her way to her beat on Halloween night. It's hard to imagine what that means on Halloween in the Castro, given that streets are mobbed with people and cops. Additionally, the charges said that Warner's jacket was embroidered with the offending seven-point star, charges for which she could potentially lose her beat.

The visit left Warner in tears, said her attorney, George Surmaitis, who has filed a complaint to the state Workers' Compensation Appeal Board alleging that SFPD was retaliating against her for seeking compensation for an earlier on-the-job injury. (He said he will now pursue the claim on behalf of Warner's estate.) "I think because she was so ill at the time, and the fact that a uniformed officer came to her house and handed it to her, I think that was very insulting to her," he said.

Taswell believes the police department harassed Warner for her role lobbying to knock down SFPD rules that impeded the specials' ability to work. "Certain individuals in the department have no compassion, and no limits to destroying our organization," he said.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty said that hearing of how police treated Warner while she was terminally ill "really sickens me." He added: "I will ask of the chief what the circumstances were." Police spokeswoman Sergeant Lyn Tomioka responded to an inquiry by citing rules precluding the department from commenting on personnel matters.

The wide stretch of sidewalk in front of the Bank of America at 18th and Castro streets was festooned the week of May 10 with flowers, banners, and a "Goodbye Officer Jane" poster with hundreds of scrawled messages. "Jane, you are so loved; we will never forget you," a typical one read.

The local NBC television affiliate described the neighborhood's outpouring of grief following Warner's death: "She didn't just police that community; she became part of it."

During Warner's 20 years as a for-hire police officer in the Castro, she became known as the beat cop with a firm yet gentle touch. "If somebody was violating, she had no hesitation to write a citation, or take steps so the person would be arrested," said John Fitzinger, a patrol special officer who worked with Warner. "But if somebody was in need, she would go so far as to pay for a hotel room for them, give them a meal, or give them telephone numbers to make contacts for city services."

"Jane's death is just a real shock," Dufty added. "She is the epitome of community policing. Everyone knew her as Officer Jane. She was ever-present."

Warner began working in the Castro in 1993, after she left her job with the Honolulu Police Department to follow a then–significant other to San Francisco. She first served as a part-time patrol special assistant, pursuing a business degree at the University of San Francisco.

But it was as a lesbian patrolling the Castro as a member of San Francisco's odd city-endorsed private police cadre that she really found her beat in life. Warner immersed herself in the politics of the job. She haunted supervisors' offices and Police Commission hearings, urging politicians to reinstate privileges that had been stripped from the specials the year after she came on the job.

In 1994, while former Police Chief Frank Jordan was mayor, the Police Commission, with the backing of the powerful Police Officers Association, stripped the patrol specials of their status as peace officers with the ability to issue citations and book their own arrests. Behind the move, Russell explained in his 2008 SF Weekly piece, was a section of the city's administrative code letting moonlighting cops offer their own patrol services to merchants in competition with the patrol special program. The previous year, this overtime opportunity for cops raked in $9.5 million, with up to half of the city's officers participating. In late 2008, cops further differentiated themselves from their downmarket brethren when a new rule required specials to wear six-point rather than seven-point stars on their uniforms.

The problem was that Galls Uniforms on Cesar Chavez hadn't retooled their equipment to apply the special six-point star. Until last fall, the specials had made do with their old jackets. A Galls employee told me the company now makes up for the delay by offering to shave off seven-point stars and re-embroider six-point ones.

That Christmas, Warner's ability to face the charges was hampered when a thug broke her arm as she attempted to break up a bar fight. She discovered the fracture couldn't be properly treated because a recurrence of ovarian cancer had metastasized to her bones. She made a workers' compensation claim, which was denied. She appealed. Her cancer worsened. Meanwhile Sergeant Robert Yick, Police Department liaison to the patrol special program, telephoned and wrote to Warner, seeking to set up discipline meetings.

Ann Grogan, an old friend, obtained limited power of attorney to ask the Police Department on Warner's behalf to postpone the discipline matter. She called, wrote, and provided doctors' notes, but the department brushed off her requests.

Instead, a uniformed officer came to Warner's door four weeks before her death to deliver an added charge: Warner had undermined "the good order, efficiency, and discipline of the department" by postponing her discipline meeting.

"This is unbelievable that any decent or logical person could see that such an attempt to comply with the regulations constituted a failure," Grogan said. "It's like Officer Warner got caught up in a situation that was Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole. It's an upside-down world."

It's a world where Warner's friends and representatives believe San Francisco's finest seemed willing to stop at nothing to get in a last lick at their nemesis.

About The Author

Matt Smith


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