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San Francisco police officers stepped up their dispute with District Attorney Kamala Harris Wednesday, demanding she recuse herself from the prosecution of accused cop killer David Hill. With more than 100 officers on hand, the head of the San Francisco Police Officers Association called on Attorney General Bill Lockyer to step in and, presumably, seek the death penalty. Within an hour, Harris stood at her desk and told a throng of reporters she will keep the case. “I am, and my office is, completely capable and able, and in fact best situated, to prosecute this case.” The POA, which claims 99 percent of the more than 2,100 officers in the police department as members, has in recent days amplified its calls for Harris to seek the death penalty — rather than life without parole — for the April 10 shooting death of Officer Isaac Espinoza. While officers spared the district attorney the spectacle of marching on her office in protest Wednesday, as some had reportedly planned to do, the POA’s criticism was loud and clear after meeting for nearly two hours Wednesday afternoon. “The membership stands united,” said President Gary Delagnes, who stood with more than 100 officers inside an auditorium at the POA on Wednesday afternoon, just around the corner from the Hall of Justice. “We are now officially calling for District Attorney Kamala Harris to recuse herself from this case.” “Miss Harris has said she has a moral objection to the death penalty,” he continued. “In that case, she should step aside and let the attorney general of the state of California take this case.” The officers behind him burst into loud applause.
Flanked by SF police officers, Gary Delagnes, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association addresses the media asking Kamala Harris to recuse herself. Image: Jason Doiy / The Recorder

Nathan Barankin, Lockyer’s spokesman, said his office hasn’t been asked to step in. Typically, the DA approaches the AG when there’s a potential conflict. With the Hill case, “it’s not a conflict or problem of enforcing state law against killings. [Harris is] making the discretionary choice that all DAs have the power to make,” Barankin said. In addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon, Harris reiterated her sympathy, and her resolve. “I understand that many members of the police department are still in mourning, as are many members of the district attorney’s office, including myself.” But she said she doesn’t need the attorney general’s assistance, and the case presents no conflict of interest. “Justice is not about image,” but about doing the right thing, she added. “I have reviewed the evidence in this case and have made a principled decision as well,” she said. Harris said she understood the officers’ call for her to step aside, saying the issue is emotional. “I believe that the relationship with the police will improve as emotions start to be replaced by reason.” After she spoke with the press, her office distributed fliers with information on past prosecutions of accused killers of San Francisco police officers. One said there has been no death sentence verdict in a San Francisco police officer killing as far back as the 1950s. Delagnes promised the POA “will bring all the power it has to bear on the district attorney to recuse herself.” Delagnes had been more diplomatic in his initial criticisms. Though he called for the death penalty at Espinoza’s well-attended funeral, he quietly urged Harris to turn the case over to the U.S. attorney’s office if she wouldn’t change her mind. The U.S. attorney’s office has declined comment. But according to Greg Suhr, deputy chief of field operations for the police department, the U.S. attorney has looked at the case. “At least at its inception it didn’t meet their criteria,” he said. Suhr also emphasized that despite the disagreement about what penalty the DA should seek for Espinoza’s murder, he’s been happy with the resources Harris has dedicated to the case. “We’re real comfortable with who’s prosecuting it,” he said, noting that Harris has assigned the head of her homicide unit and her criminal division to the case. Chief of Police Heather Fong and eight of her top brass sent a memo to the department Monday urging the death penalty “in the strongest possible terms.” But Fong would not comment as she hustled out of the POA meeting past a mob of reporters. Reporter Jeff Chorney contributed to this story.

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