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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

Page 2 of 6

Deputy City Attorney Robert Bonta, who is representing Bertrand in the case, says the arrest was fair and legal. According to Bertrand's police report, three witnesses told him Ghanadan had organized the party. That was enough probable cause to arrest Ghanadan, Bonta says, and Bertrand made none of the comments Ghanadan alleges he did.

But Ghanadan isn't the only one to complain about the so-called "king of busting after-hours." Bertrand's heavy-handed tactics attracted media attention in November and December when he confiscated laptops at several underground parties — a series of incidents that prompted a meeting between a lawyer for the DJs and Police Chief George Gascón and that led to a revised police policy for property seizures at illegal events. In the last three months, Bertrand and his partner, state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Inspector Michelle Ott, have become infamous not only within the underground scene, but also at legally licensed venues throughout SOMA.

Police officials say that the pair are just doing their jobs and helping keep San Francisco nightlife safe.

But owners and staff at six SOMA nightclubs say that Bertrand and Ott's policing is harsh and vindictive, and has crossed the line into harassment.

With police denying any problem with Bertrand and Ott's enforcement techniques, a group of nightclub owners say they are planning coordinated legal action to address the issue.

In response, their lawyer says, they're going to file an extraordinary lawsuit against the SFPD and the ABC — and sue the city and the state for racketeering.

Since last June, Bertrand and Ott have become familiar figures in certain parts of SOMA. Nightclub security staff on 11th Street describe Bertrand as a thin guy, maybe six feet tall, who wears a baseball cap when he's in plainclothes. Ott is much shorter, with curly hair; one bouncer said she looked Mediterranean. Sometimes they patrol in uniform, but often they're both undercover, Bertrand driving, Ott riding shotgun. Ghanadan said he spotted them once last winter disguised incongruously as a pair of ravers. Bertrand sported jeans and a ski hat; Ott was wearing a backpack.

Bertrand did not return repeated requests for comment. Through an ABC spokesman, Ott also declined to be interviewed. ABC spokesman John Carr wrote in an e-mail that neither Ott nor her boss, Erik Szakacs, would be commenting, "so the peace officers could continue to focus their efforts on several active investigations, some involving ongoing undercover work."

While media reps for both organizations emphasize that members of the SFPD and ABC often work together, Bertrand and Ott's ongoing partnership in the Southern District is something special.

"This was an opportunity where we had two people who just kind of clicked," said Inspector Dave Falzon, the police department's liaison to the ABC. "Larry was interested in doing club enforcement. Michelle was interested in finding someone in the city to work with."

Police officials deny that there's been a major change in nightlife enforcement since Bertrand and Ott have been on the club and party beat. If anything, Southern Station Captain Daniel A. McDonagh said, nightclub citations in his district have actually declined, thanks to better-run venues. The most he would say is that some tickets have been issued recently to "clubs that have normally not been an issue, if they're in violation for something egregious."

"The majority of clubs that they've gone to have no problems," he said, referring to Bertrand and Ott. Even Ghanadan says he knows that Bertrand has a good relationship with the staff of at least two SOMA nightclubs. "From what I heard, with some people he's the nicest guy," Ghanadan said.

ABC refused to release any information about Ott, even how long she has been working for its Bay Area office. Bertrand is a member of the San Francisco Police Officers Association board of directors. In his nine years with the SFPD, he has been the subject of two lawsuits alleging unfair arrest and improper use of force. One suit, filed in 2005, was later abandoned. In the other, the case went to trial and the jury declared Bertrand not liable.

Now, in an unrelated case, attorney Isaac Bowers says his client, Peter Gomez, is preparing to file a lawsuit against Bertrand. According to the police report, Bertrand arrested Gomez in front of the Chronicle building at 2 one August morning for breaking a window. Bowers says that after Gomez was already in handcuffs, Bertrand pushed his head through a window, then forced him to the ground and yanked back his arms, demanding, "Say sorry, bitch; tell me you're sorry, bitch."

The police report of the incident describes Gomez as confrontational, but confirms that his head went through the window after he was cuffed.

State law mandates that the records of complaints filed against peace officers, as well as their disciplinary records, remain confidential.

What is public knowledge is the fact that police instituted a new policy mandating that a supervising officer be present whenever cops bust underground parties — a direct reaction to the public outcry surrounding media reports about the confiscation of DJs' laptops at these events.

When Bertrand took DJ Justin Credible's laptop out of her hands, she says, she wasn't sure what was going on. She was playing at a friend's private Halloween bash at a large residence in SOMA when the party got busted by the cops. She says she wasn't using her laptop to play music; she had just been worried that it would be stolen if she left it in her car.

As the party was being broken up, she says a man in plainclothes approached her and asked for her laptop. When she produced it, Credible says, he took it and walked away. She followed him outside, where the party's other DJs were standing by, equally shocked at the confiscation of their equipment. Credible says that when the man opened the trunk of an unmarked car, she saw three or four laptops inside, as well as a DJ bag.

About The Author

Lois Beckett


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