D.A. Kamala Harris Appoints Iran-Contra Prosecutor to Handle S.F. Criminal Cop Scandal

John Keker, who went after Iran-Contra defendant Oliver North (pictured), will soon be looking into the SFPD.
District Attorney Kamala Harris announced today that she will appoint a high-powered private attorney to review the growing scandal over her office's failure to disclose the criminal backgrounds of dozens of San Francisco police employees.

In a press release, D.A. spokeswoman Erica Derryck said Harris has appointed private San Francisco attorney John Keker -- the chief prosecutor in the famous 1988 trial of former National Security Council member Oliver North as a result of the Iran-Contra scandal -- to "advise" her office on how to handle the disclosure of police officers' and civilian police employees' criminal backgrounds.

Earlier this month, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that more than 80 police officers and other police employees who have testified in court proceedings have criminal backgrounds that were not properly disclosed to defense lawyers. As a result of this oversight, numerous convictions could be overturned. The damaging revelations came after controversy over the criminal background and alleged drug-thieving habits of SFPD crime-lab technician Deborah Madden, whose mishandling of narcotics evidence forced the closure of the lab's drug unit in March and led to hundreds of dropped drug cases.

In the press release, Harris is quoted as stating that Keker and Assistant D.A. David Pfeifer will lead a team of prosecutors who will "examine any cases impacted by disclosures regarding police misconduct that we receive from the San Francisco Police Department."

In an interview, Keker, now a criminal-defense attorney, told SF Weekly his advisory role would involve working with prosecutors "to talk about what information needs to be disclosed" that is brought to the D.A.'s office by the police. He also shed some light on exactly what the D.A.'s office believes it will be obligated to disclose -- with some surprising revelations.

Keker said that not all of officers' criminal convictions would necessarily have to be disclosed to defense attorneys. Among the crimes that might not need to be revealed: "Things like drunk driving, domestic abuse, depending on the kind of case, they wouldn't be relevant, and they wouldn't need to be disclosed," he said. "A felony conviction is always relevant. A misdemeanor conviction is not always relevant ... there's some fuzziness around the edges."

We have a call in to Public Defender Jeff Adachi to see if he agrees. Stay tuned.

This blog post has been updated since it was originally published.

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