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June 07, 2007
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San Francisco officer pulled for use of force

By Susan Sward,
The San Francisco Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. San Francisco police Officer Jesse Serna, who has been involved in five incidents in the last nine months in which citizens accused him of using excessive force without provocation, has been removed from street duty, the department said Wednesday.

Serna, a 12-year veteran who had been stationed in North Beach, has been assigned to an undisclosed "non-public-contact'' position, police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens said. Serna was transferred based on a review of his record that Chief Heather Fong ordered after The Chronicle detailed four of the incidents in a story last month, Gittens said.

Fong said Wednesday night that the 41-year-old Serna "will be on this until further notice." He was taken off the streets last week.

A Chronicle analysis last year of police records from 1996 to 2004 identified Serna as the officer who had reported the most instances of use of force in the department. Two of the four recent incidents involving Serna have resulted in lawsuits against him and the city, and a third has led to a legal claim, which is often the precursor to a suit.

Word of Serna's transfer came the same day that yet another lawsuit was filed against him. The plaintiff in the latest case is a 27-year-old Menlo Park waiter who accuses Serna of slamming him against a police wagon and throwing him to the ground in response to a question about his conduct.

Efforts to reach Serna, the stepson of one of the department's highest-ranking officers, Cmdr. Stephen Tacchini, were unsuccessful.

In the latest lawsuit, Marco Maestrini said Serna attacked him after Maestrini questioned why a group of officers including Serna was beating another man on the street in North Beach.

Maestrini is seeking $1 million in damages in his lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by civil rights attorney John Burris of Oakland.

According to the lawsuit, Maestrini left the Dragon Bar nightclub on Broadway with friends about 1:30 a.m. Oct. 29. The suit says he was dressed in Halloween garb, "a jailbird costume and long-haired wig.'' It adds that he "was not intoxicated.''

When Maestrini and one of his friends saw someone being beaten by several officers, the suit says, Maestrini asked them, "What's going on?''

In response, Serna grabbed him, slammed him twice against a police wagon, hit him and dropped him to the ground, the suit says.

When Maestrini, blood flowing from his head, asked Serna why he was being detained, Serna told him, "Oh, you're crying like a little girl,'' the suit says.

Maestrini incurred a hospital bill of about $4,000 for treatment of head injuries and other injuries, according to the suit. No charges were ever filed against him, the suit says.

"This is another shocking example of how this officer is out of control," Burris said. "He has demonstrated a short fuse and treats citizens who make legitimate inquiries of him as if they have no rights.''

Burris filed a federal lawsuit two weeks ago on behalf of Esther Hwang, a former scheduling secretary for Mayor Willie Brown. She says Serna dropped her to the ground on May 12 on a North Beach street and called her a vulgar name after she jokingly asked officers what they would do if she tried to jaywalk.

In April, Burris sued on behalf of Greg Oliver, personal trainer for San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds. Oliver says that on Aug. 20, Serna hit him with his baton twice after Oliver pointed out that officers were using force on a man who had actually been a victim of an assault -- not a perpetrator -- on a North Beach street.

Both suits also seek $1 million in damages.

Serna is also the subject of a legal claim filed against the city. UCLA medical student Mehrdad Alemozaffar, 26, says several officers set upon him Dec. 17, and that he was zapped a dozen times by a sheriff's deputy's stun gun, after he told Serna he was going to make a complaint about his conduct.

The deputy filed a report saying he had used the stun gun only twice, but some witnesses say the zapping went on longer than that.

Sheriff Mike Hennessey said Wednesday that data downloaded from the stun gun indicate it had been fired three times that night, and he said one of those firings probably had been a test.

Hennessey said the device's printout did not give an accurate date or time of the incident, and "that raises a question of whether we need additional information on the accuracy of the device's reporting mechanism. We are doing everything we can to resolve this.''

In his claim, Alemozaffar says Serna made a comment similar to the one Maestrini reports in his suit. Alemozaffar says Serna told him "to stop acting like such a girl.''

San Francisco taxpayers have paid out a total of $195,000 in three earlier lawsuits unrelated to the current cases in which plaintiffs claimed that Serna used excessive force against them.

Copyright 2007 San Francisco Chronicle 

Full story: San Francisco officer pulled for use of force






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