By Paul Elias and Sudhin Thanawala
SAN FRANCISCO — Federal grand juries have indicted five San Francisco police officers, charging two with stealing money and drugs seized as part of investigations, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
The officers were suspended without pay and had their guns taken away, Police Chief Greg Suhr said shortly after the indictments were announced.
"Our department is shaken," an emotional Suhr said. "This is as serious as an issue as I can recall in my time in the department."
Suhr said federal authorities assured him the arrests did not reflect a systemic problem in the department.
Along with stealing money and drugs, two of the officers and a former officer were charged with distributing controlled substances and stealing computers, electronic devices and gift cards from suspects.
They were identified as Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill; Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville; and former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert. They were charged with drug conspiracy, drug distribution and civil rights conspiracy.
On March 2, 2009, the officers took items they seized during an arrest, including a $500 Apple gift card, according to the indictment. Two days later, prosecutors said, Vargas used the gift card to buy an iPhone and iPod Nano.
In a separate incident the same month, the indictment says, the officers took marijuana. Vargas is accused of delivering the pot to two informants and asking them to sell it and split the proceeds with him, Furminger and Robles.
In a separate indictment, three officers were charged with civil rights violations for entering hotel rooms illegally and intimidating occupants, prosecutors said.
The charges were based on surveillance footage from a hotel in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood that was released by the city's public defender, Jeff Adachi, in 2011. Adachi claimed the videos of plainclothes officers contradicted police reports and sworn police testimony.
Those three defendants were identified as Officer Arshad Razzak, 41, and Officer Richard Yick, 37, both of San Francisco; and Officer Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo. They were charged with civil rights conspiracy and deprivation of rights under color of law. Razzak and Yick were also charged with falsifying police reports.
Adachi said his clients had for years reported that their rights were being violated.
"I commend the U.S. attorney for taking seriously the reports from ordinary citizens who had been humiliated, stolen from and hurt by police officers sworn to protect them," Adachi said in a statement.
One of the videos released in 2011 by Adachi shows two officers walking into a residential hotel empty-handed and leaving with bags that Adachi said weren't booked into evidence.
Allegations stemming from the released videos led to the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.
The charges came after San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon referred the investigation to federal authorities, citing a conflict of interest, federal prosecutors said. Gascon was the police chief at the time the alleged conduct occurred.
Five of the defendants were scheduled to appear in court on Friday. Vargas was expected to appear before a judge later Thursday, prosecutors said.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press