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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Father: SFPD's Dogged Insistence Hugues de la Plaza Committed Suicide Is 'Almost Complicity'

Posted By on Tue, Feb 24, 2009 at 12:52 PM

click to enlarge François de la Plaza says of the SFPD: "They can still help us toward our objective of finding the murderer. ... There is still a lot to do." - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • François de la Plaza says of the SFPD: "They can still help us toward our objective of finding the murderer. ... There is still a lot to do."

Through tightly clenched teeth, François de la Plaza says he still believes the San Francisco Police Department can catch the person who killed his son. Of course, that would require the SFPD to acknowledge that someone did kill François' son -- and admit that the department has been loudly barking up the wrong tree for nearly two years by insisting the case is a suicide.

French dual citizen Hugues de la Plaza was found dead in his blood-stained Hayes Valley apartment in June of 2007 with a stab wound to his throat and two to his torso. Though no bloody knife was found in the apartment, the San Francisco Medical Examiner's office -- after a lengthy delay -- ruled the cause of death  "undetermined," leaving the door open for the cops' pet theory of suicide. Two ideas police floated to François de la Plaza: Hugues stabbed himself repeatedly and then washed a clean knife found in the apartment or, after thrice stabbing himself, de la Plaza tossed the bloody knife out the window where someone walked off with it. 

François and his wife, Mireille, were so shocked by the SFPD's behavior that they asked French authorities to intervene -- and they did. A federal judge granted French police the right to pack all the evidence in the case back to Paris, where a pair of top medical examiners unambiguously ruled that Hugues could not have possibly stabbed himself in a manner consistent with the wounds -- he was murdered. Now François de la Plaza is back in San Francisco and he wants answers. "I want to force the SFPD to abandon this idea of suicide," he told SF Weekly today through an interpreter. "If they still want to stick to this hypothesis of suicide, they need to provide arguments worthy to prove it. If the police will not cooperate, we will find a way of making the police cooperate. We will try everything." In this case, "everything" means putting up the $100,000 from Hugues' life insurance as a reward, a move the family will announce at a City Hall press conference on Thursday. The elder de la Plaza hopes to meet with the SFPD either today or tomorrow.

François de la Plaza hails from Brignogan in the far west of Brittany, which is itself the westernmost region of France. He is a short man with tightly cropped grey hair and a tight little smile. Throughout a 45-minute sit-down interview his attempts to remain diplomatic were palpable. Speaking in quick, short bursts, however, he grew animated while discussing the two-year oddyssey he and his wife have undertaken to get the SFPD to investigate their son's death.

"I think the SFPD is lax. They don't have enough resources. The mayor should give the police the resources to do their work. Since they don't have resources they see a guy being stabbed and just say, 'Eh, get rid of the file' and deal with it," says de la Plaza, who notes that the DNA work on his son's death was all done in France, not here.

It warrants mentioning that, according to statistics culled by the United Nations in 2002, The United States reported 16,204 murders. France, with a little over one-fifth America's population, recorded 1,051 murders -- only 6.5 percent the U.S. total. In France, police respond to a murder by assembling 10-officer teams. Here, "obviously motivation is
not as high," notes de la Plaza dryly.

Still, when asked if the SFPD is capable of finding his son's murderer, de la Plaza shrugs and replies "Why not?"

click to enlarge Hugues de la Plaza
  • Hugues de la Plaza
"The SFPD may not have done their job well, but we are not trying to get back at them. 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."

Still, nothing can be accomplished unless the SFPD abandons the suicide hypothesis -- and de la Plaza worries that the department will assume a defensive posture and begin looking for problems with the French coroners' report -- instead of looking for his son's killer. "I'm afraid this will start being a war between experts," he says. "It is almost complicity from the police to keep saying this is is a suicide. There is no argument for this hypothesis. There is nothing."

Speaking of nothing, de la Plaza had faint praise for Mayor Gavin Newsom. "We saw him one time and he was very nice," he says. "He was smiling, he had a big office, and he said 'I'll see what I can do.' That's it" De la Plaza demonstrates the meeting's uselessness with a little shrug punctuated with a fart noise, a typically Gallic mannerism.

De la plaza chuckles. "He's a very important person. He has a lot of appointments."

Hugues de la Plaza would have been 38 years old. He was François and Mireille's only child. 
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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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