Face-Stabbing Cop Peeves Public Defender

Jeff Adachi, public defender
The current hoopla at the Hall of Justice over nondisclosure of police officers' violent histories continued Monday, when Public Defender Jeff Adachi issued a terse press release asking why his department wasn't told that a cop involved in a case going to trial once stabbed a handcuffed defendant in the face with a crack pipe.

Officer Reynaldo Vargas "could be called" to testify in the trial of Josefino Rufino, who is charged with methamphetamine possession and sales. In 2005, Vargas was suspended for six months after he "gouged a handcuffed man's face with a broken crack pipe," according to the Adachi. The man was suspected of sneaking a free ride on a cable car.

The district attorney's prosecutors knew this when they declared themselves ready for trial last week, but chose not to tell Adachi's people. That got Adachi angry, which was intensified Sunday when he read a Chronicle cover story about Vargas' violent past.

Not only are prosecutors not playing fair, Adachi says, they are also flouting the law: They're defying a May 17 court ruling in which a Superior Court judge said police and prosecutors have a history of withholding information from defense counsel, and prosecutors must disclose knowledge of situations like Vargas'.

"This trial was the first to test prosecutors' willingness to comply [with the court ruling] and they failed," Adachi wrote in a press release.

District Attorney Kamala Harris is a busy woman -- she is in Sacramento today to testify in support of a law that would combat truancy -- and apparently this situation is not on her radar. Minutes before press deadline Monday, a Harris spokeswoman dismissed Adachi's "assertions [as] patently false," and said that the May 17 ruling does not apply in this or many other cases. Vargas shouldn't have stabbed the man in the face, but what's that got to do with anything?

"Under the law to obtain officer personnel records, you need a court order," Erica Derryck wrote in an e-mail. "We have already filed motions with the court to do that. Yet Mr. Adachi continues to issue press releases and make demands as if we can ignore the law. As if no court order is needed."

This isn't over. Adachi has asked Harris to provide criminal records and misconduct histories for 135 SFPD officers by July 1, but has so far received no response. Meanwhile, no fewer than six attorneys are reviewing "thousands" of cases to see whether prosecutors committed misconduct, Adachi said.

The Summer of Litigation begins. And you were there!

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