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District Attorney Terence Hallinan dropped conspiracy charges against the two top police officers in San Francisco on Tuesday, saying he doesn’t have the evidence to win a conviction. The move narrows a case that has rocked the city since a grand jury indicted 10 members of the San Francisco police department on Feb. 27, but still leaves Hallinan with the uphill battle of proving conspiracy charges against several members of the police department’s top brass. “In the interest of justice, we request that we strike the names of [Assistant Chief] Alex Fagan Sr. and [Chief] Earl Sanders from the indictments,” Hallinan told San Francisco Superior Court Judge Kay Tsenin. Hallinan said he spent the weekend reviewing the 1,300-page transcript and decided not to proceed, even though he said last week that he intended to press the case. “I felt there was probable cause for the grand jury doing what they did,” Hallinan said. But, he added, he could not say, “with abiding certainty,” that the evidence was there. Upset over leaks to the media involving comments that he made to the grand jury that cast doubt on the conspiracy to obstruct justice charges, Hallinan told Tsenin he would ask for a gag order. Meanwhile, defense lawyer James Patrick Collins said the three officers involved in the alleged early-morning street brawl will ask Tsenin to keep the grand jury transcript sealed. Hallinan said he would oppose that move, and several members of the defense team did not join Collins in his request. The battle over media access led to the most heated exchange of the day. “I am somewhat disturbed that some members of the defense have revealed portions of the transcript to the news media,” Hallinan told Tsenin. “Unless you really put your foot down, you’re going to have a circus here.” Stuart Hanlon, who represents Deputy Chief Greg Suhr, took umbrage with Hallinan. “Now that they don’t like some of the press, they want a gag order,” he said. Bickering ensued, with several lawyers embroiling themselves. Tsenin barked the court back to order with an emphatic: “Counsel!” The case stems from an early-morning Marina District brawl allegedly started by three off-duty police officers. While those three officers face felony assault charges, a grand jury also indicted several officers for conspiracy to obstruct justice. Sanders and Fagan Sr. were indicted for approving the allegedly retaliatory transfer of Lt. Joe Dutto, who oversaw the investigators assigned to the case. Five other officers still face conspiracy charges based on their alleged efforts to thwart the investigation. Oakland attorney John Burris said his client, Sanders, has seen his reputation sullied by the allegations. “Certainly it has been irreparable damage,” he said. Burris indicated that Sanders, who took a medical leave after the indictments came down, would return to lead the department — if his health permits. But Hallinan said after the hearing that he doesn’t believe Sanders should return to a supervisory position over officers who may testify in the case. In a statement late Tuesday, Sanders said he would “analyze today’s proceedings with my counsel and will respond, as I have throughout my 40-year police career, appropriately and decisively in the proper channels and through the relevant governmental authorities.” Not only is Sanders’ future in the air, but Hallinan’s may be as well. Hallinan, who is up for re-election in November, took a beating in the legal community after it was revealed that he told the grand jury he didn’t feel he had enough evidence to prove the conspiracy charges. But it’s anyone’s guess how his handling of the case will play with voters. Conventional wisdom is that Hallinan may have unnecessarily cast the police department into turmoil, but political observers say that in liberal San Francisco, that doesn’t necessarily translate into political suicide.

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