San Francisco’s latest fiasco — the city’s police chief and three of his top commanders have been indicted for allegedly covering up a police brawl over steak fajitas — revolves around the city’s crackpot district attorney Terence Hallinan. San Franciscans are asking: How did things come to this? The answer is simple: You elected a cop-hating former felon as your district attorney!
“I’m the commander in chief of this goddamn place, and there is no way the command staff of my Police Department is going to step down at this time. It’s a matter of public safety,” San Francisco mayor Willie Brown said after the indictments came down last week.
But why is Willie Brown surprised at Hallinan’s conduct? He could have stopped Hallinan’s demented anti-cop antics long before last week. Brown is in fact one of the people responsible for Hallinan’s improbable and comic rise to power. In the mid-1960s, the California State Bar said Hallinan, a drug-using juvenile delinquent, should not be admitted to the California bar. But Willie Brown and others vouched for Hallinan’s “good moral character” at a bar hearing and ultimately Hallinan became a lawyer.
Hallinan is describing his indictments against the police department as San Francisco’s “Watergate.” He is right on at least one score: the indictments stem from an alleged third-rate burglary — of steak fajitas. Hallinan says the police department obstructed an investigation into a fight on Union Street last fall in which off-duty police officers allegedly brawled with two men after they refused to surrender to the hungry cops a take-home dinner of steak fajitas.
Hallinan says indicted police chief Earl Sanders and his assistants should step down. They have been “charged with criminal conduct,” he says, and therefore lack the credibility to remain in their positions. Too bad such logic doesn’t apply to Hallinan himself: His résumé includes not just mere indictments but also convictions. A 1960s radical known as “Kayo” for his fisticuffs, Hallinan broke the law repeatedly. The man who is now having cops arrested was often arrested himself.
At age 17, “Kayo” participated in the beating of three Coast Guardsmen, for which he pled guilty to battery and theft. The next year he punched a Sierra ski-lodge owner and pled guilty to assault and battery and disturbing the peace. He was arrested six times as a cops-are-pigs political protester. And at age 22 he barely escaped a felony assault case. It concluded with a hung trial but produced a revealing headline: “DA Says Convict Kayo or License Teen Terror.”
Even as San Francisco’s district attorney, Hallinan couldn’t stay out of fights. Shortly after the city ludicrously elected him — even though he ran on an anti-cop, pro-criminal platform and comically disparaged his opponent for having “an approach to the criminal justice system [of] trying [criminals], convicting them, and sending them to prison” — Hallinan got into a fight with a real estate developer at a steak ‘n’ chops restaurant in the Marina District. “Blow-by-Blow Description of DA’s Tussle,” blared the local paper. Hallinan admitted “jamming” the real estate developer. But he blew the incident off. What else are you supposed to do, he said, when a “guy calls you the F-word at a distance six inches from your face a hundred times”?
Hallinan’s political and legal career has been a nonstop farce. After doing criminal defense work for such clients as Patty Hearst, the mass murderer Juan Corona and a group of mutinous soldiers named the “Presidio 27,” Hallinan entered city politics. As a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, he became the champion of the most insane causes: extending a speaking invitation to Fidel Castro, proposing sister city status for a Nicaraguan town led by a Sandinista mayor, and favoring the creation of city-run brothels (“Amsterdam has a red light district, and I’ve heard good things about their system…”).
Hallinan considered one of his most epic acts as a city supervisor the passage of a “transgender” city ordinance extending equal-opportunity protections to transvestites, transsexuals, and cross-dressers. “This is a proud day to be a San Franciscan,” he said.
Hallinan’s life remained during this period as wild and absurd as his views. One of his former assistants accused him of trying to paw her body during an election-observing junket to Nicaragua. A West German-born airline stewardess brought a 1985 paternity case against him. He litigated the case for a couple of years until court-mandated blood-tests exposed his fibbing. He then professed affection for his son Somes, saying, “I love the little guy. He’s on my family health plan.”
When he mishandled a sex scandal in the district attorney’s office in 1996 — two prosecutors were found entangled atop a desk — his top aide resigned in disgust.
Hallinan has a genius for colorful blunders. Immediately upon entering the district attorney’s office in 1995 he asked staffers to retire his campaign debt. “An unintentional mistake,” he said. Then he fired fourteen prosecutors in their absence. Afraid of a mutiny, he fled the district attorney’s office and then later posted an armed guard outside his office. He fired several more prosecutors a few months later, dumping them while he vacationed in Hawaii.
While his prosecutors looked for jobs, he generated even more news by putting on his payroll an amphetamine user and checkered cops, one of whom had received a suspension for deserting a handcuffed drunk with an artificial leg at Pier 33.
Not that Hallinan’s heart didn’t bleed for the inebriate. That year Hallinan celebrated “Disability Awareness Day” by pretending to be an amputee.
Hallinan is such a clown that some San Franciscans are longing for the days of his father Vincent, a notorious socialist and 1952 Progressive Party presidential candidate. Then again, his radical father might have beamed with pride as his shaggy son tumbled into higher and higher office.
As a protester and scofflaw, Terence Hallinan had always wanted to immobilize the San Francisco police department. Now he has achieved his goal as district attorney.
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