Monday, June 21, 2010 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A police officer and potential witness in an upcoming narcotics trial was once suspended for gouging a handcuffed man’s face with a broken crack pipe. Friday, prosecutors declared they were ready for trial, despite never disclosing the incident to the public defender.
Today, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the failure to disclose Officer Reynaldo Vargas’ misconduct flouts the law and ignores a May 17 order by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo. In the ruling, the judge details a systematic withholding by prosecutors of evidence of misconduct in the crime lab and among SFPD employees. Defense attorneys and their clients are entitled to the material under Brady v. Maryland.
“It is outrageous that the district attorney is refusing to provide evidence of an officer’s violent history,” Adachi said. “This trial was the first to test prosecutors’ willingness to comply with the Judge Massullo’s order and they failed.”
Adachi has set a July 1 deadline for District Attorney Kamala Harris to turn over the criminal records and misconduct histories of an estimated 135 SFPD officers. He has received no response.
Vargas’ background was highlighted Sunday in a San Francisco Chronicle story about officers’ misconduct histories and criminal records. In 2005, Vargas was suspended for six months after cutting the man, who was suspected of sneaking a free ride on a cable car. Vargas was also accused of lying about the incident, but that charge was dropped in a settlement.
Vargas is one of several police officers who could be called to testify in the trial of Josefino Rufino, scheduled to begin by July 6. Rufino is charged with possession of methamphetamine and maintaining a home where drugs are sold.
Vargas was among six officers who served a search warrant on Rufino’s San Francisco home on April 29, following a tip from a confidential informant. Rufino, 44, was arrested after officers allegedly found a baggy of methamphetamine lying on his computer desk.
Rufino is represented by Deputy Public Defender Mamta Ahluwalia.