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Citywide summit on witness intimidation
slated for June

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala announces summit
to improve witness protection in wake of recent witness murder
Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice Director Allen Nance at left.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

Copyright fogcityjournal.com 2006

May 11, 2006

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris yesterday announced a "citywide summit on witness intimidation" will be held June 16.

Harris made the announcement backed by a number of City officials and community leaders in the wake of a witness being murdered last Thursday before he was able to testify in court.

She foretold a "war on terrorism," labeling criminals who intimidate witnesses as brazen "terrorists."

Both prosecutors and police complain that successful removal of criminals from high crime areas is hamstrung due to the fear which criminals are able instill in witnesses.

Intimidation has become brazen as signified by a T-Shirt message seen increasingly in violence plagued low-income neighborhoods, Harris reported.

"There are too many people who are living in a state of fear in the neighborhoods where we've witnessed the violence," Harris said at the morning Ella Hill Hutch Community Center gathering.

"There too many people who are being terrorized by terrorists who are intimidating these neighborhood people in suggesting they should not come forward."

The summit will be held at St. Mary's Cathedral beginning at 11:00 a.m. June 16.

"That's going to be... a joint effort by law enforcement and communities together shoulder-to-shoulder saying that we will protect, we will support, we will defend individuals in their communities who want to stand up and not live in a state of fear and in a state of violence," Harris continued.

The 11:45 a.m. announcement included San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey, director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice Allen Nance, community organizations and the faith community.

Notably absent were San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

As of 8:15 p.m. last night Fong had not received an invitation to the summit, Fong told the San Francisco Police Commission.

"We look forward to being invited," Fong said.

"We are unaware of exactly what it is. We heard that it's on June 16, I believe, and that's all we know about it at this time," added Fong.

Police Chief Heather Fong at yesterday's Police Commission meeting.

Newsom supports efforts to improve witness protection services, Nance related at the Hutch Center.

"Let me first say that first and foremost Mayor Newsom fully supports the effort that's underway to address the witness protection services that are being provided to the citizens of San Francisco," Nance said.

“Let me also say that you see the individuals standing behind me as convened by DA Harris that this is a very clear indication of our collaborative support and effort to deal with the issues of violence in our communities.”

Community leaders gathered as Police Commissioner Joe Foster speaks.

Nance predicted witness protection collaboration will lead to neighborhood intolerance of violence.

"We must send a message to members of this community and other parts of San Francisco that they will be protected, that they should step forward, that we will not tolerate violence in our communities, that we will not allow our youth and our young people and our families to be intimated by those individuals who bring such vicious acts upon residents of this community.

"Therefore the Mayor's Office is committing its resources... to support the efforts of DA Harris and other public safety agencies to develop the degree of partnership that is necessary to support our communities and to support our citizens know that they will be safe and that we will not tolerate violence in San Francisco."

Two separate witness protection programs exist in San Francisco which are not partnered, Deputy Police Chief Morris Tabak later told the Police Commission.

"I'd like to make it perfectly clear that there is no City witness relocation program," Tabak told commissioners.

"The San Francisco Police Department has it's own relocation program and the District Attorney's Office has their own witness relocation program."

Witness Tyrell Rollins, 22, was killed under the witness relocation program of the District Attorney when Rollins returned to his neighborhood.

Rollins had been relocated out of San Francisco after Rollins identified two men involved in a 2005 Bayview murder.

Rollins was recognized and shot dead at 10:15 a.m. Thursday as he returned for auto repairs to the City Auto Tech repair shop at 269 Bayshore Boulevard.

The District Attorney's Office "manages its own program," Tabak continued.

Both programs are "stand-alone programs," he said.

"The program unfortunately that Mr. Rollins was killed was being managed and relocated under the District Attorney's witness relocation program.

"We've had a (police department) relocation program for many decades" under which no witness was killed, Tabak reported.

Deputy Police Chief Morris Tabak

"Are the programs similar, different - how much different are they?" asked Police Commissioner Joe Foster who attended the Hutch Center press conference.

Police Commissioner Joe Marshall

Tabak said he could not speak for the District Attorney relocation program.

"I certainly don't want to speak for their program. I can tell you that they are different," said Tabak.

"I won't go into any details. I think it would be not unfair but I think that it's something that they should speak to in contrasting our programs.

"I don't want this to become one of those point-counterpoint, us against them type of thing.

"This is a tragic event and I'm sure those who were involved in this case in the District Attorney's Office were devastated and they don't need me sitting up here telling them they should have done it this way - that wouldn't accomplish anything.

"However, what I can say is that we've extended our assistance to help them bolster their program to get it to a level perhaps it could function at a little bit better.

"And those conversations actually took place today which were facilitated by Director Nance.

Tabak detailed components of witness protection efforts under the SFPD banner of 'witness relocation.'

The program is entitled "witness relocation," Tabak stated.

"However, there are components of witness relocation. There's witness management and witness protection.

"In some parts of witness relocation that because of the danger level of the case... we, SFPD, will offer protection on a 24/7 basis.

"Sometimes when you relocate someone a great distance away, it's done.

"Sometimes you need to relocate them at a great distance away or out of the state and you need to afford them someone to be with them to make sure they are not harmed."

One commissioner raised the possibility of combining the two programs.

"What are your ideas on perhaps combining the two programs?" asked Veronese.

"Clearly the police department has the experience. I know the DA's office is working on it but why are there two programs in San Francisco?"

Tabak pointed to a lack of resources.

"We don't have the requisite staffing to take it on continuously," responded Tabak.

"We certainly don't have the funding. We certainly don't have the staffing."

Developing the best program possible is essential, Supervisor Bevan Dufty noted Wednesday morning.

"We have to have a successful witness protection program and we have to break this cycle," stressed Dufty.

"The City has tried to step forward and we've come through with funding that programs that hopefully are going to make a difference in reducing gun and gang violence but I think this is an example that no situation can be left unattended to.

As a result of last week's witness murder, Harris doubled the number of District Attorney staff assigned to witness protection from seven to 14, she said.

Lack of sufficient funding for successful witness protection indicates indifference to witness plight, said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

"Strong witness solicitation should be an uncompromising secret weapon of our law enforcement but unfortunately it is not," Mirkarimi maintained, who represents the high crime supervisorial District 5 of San Francisco.

"Deficient and under funded witness solicitation I believe communicates an indifference and an ineffectiveness to the rest of San Francisco.

Mirkarimi noted the Police Commission will meet jointly in June with the Select Committee on Gun and Gang Violence of the Board of Supervisors.

"Here on June 7, Ella Hill Hutch will be host to a meeting first-of-its-kind.

"That will be a joint meeting between the Gun and Gang Violence Committee... and the Police Commission.

"What I expect to come out of that meeting is not just an opportunity for people to vent their concerns but literally an institutionalize commitment... that will enable the strategies which I believe, to this day, have not been enabled."




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