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Once news broke that city officials plan to suspend about 20 cops for misconduct — specifically, making “immature and vulgar … sexist, racist and homophobic” videos — one thought occurred to San Francisco criminal defense solo Gail Shifman: Get those tapes. “When I woke up this morning and I got the paper, and there it was in the [ San Francisco Chronicle] … the very first thing I thought about was, I need to subpoena those videotapes and find out who was involved,” said Shifman, who hopes they’ll prove relevant to a case she’s defending in federal court. “My first thought was, this goes to bias, motive and maybe reasons for saying things that various defendants did or didn’t do, or witnesses.” The videos, which an officer told the Chronicle were meant to “make fun of ourselves,” have created an image problem for the police — and a potential boon for the defense bar. Like Shifman, Oakland lawyer Richard Tamor is defending an alleged gang member in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Like Shifman, he assumes that some of the officers wrapped up in the videos are among the potential witnesses in his case, since the city has said that most of the cops who will be suspended are or have been assigned to the Bayview neighborhood. “We got a witness list with just about every police officer in the Bayview-Hunters Point station in it,” said Tamor, who also plans to subpoena the videos. His client, who prosecutors say is a member of the Big Block gang, goes to trial next month. “I haven’t seen the videos, [but] I’ve seen descriptions of them, and they seem pretty bad,” Tamor said Thursday, adding that he’s interested in whether the tapes portray a bias, perhaps on the basis of race or income. “If there is a video out there that shows they’re biased toward the people they’re [supposed] to protect, that will certainly weigh on their credibility,” he said. Shifman said she wants to see whether the videos can help defend her client, an alleged member of West Mob. “Do they have a motive to lie? Is there some bias which they bring to every investigation and interview and police report?” If they find such material, they’d still have to prove relevance, of course. But the potential to probe biases may not be the only defense angle to the controversy. If suspended officers have to testify in a case, a defense attorney may try to cross-examine them about their job status, said Richard Mazer, a criminal defense solo who practices almost exclusively in federal court. Of course, a judge may not allow it, Mazer pointed out. “In an excessive-force case, if he’s on suspension for excessive force, that’s something different. But here, who knows.” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi says he expects the superior court will see more Pitchess motions, which defense lawyers file to probe officers’ backgrounds. If a client’s defense hinges on racial or gender profiling, Adachi said, “and you have that same officer on video … that becomes relevant.” But even if no more filings surface, Adachi added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see an impact on the jury pool, and questions posed in voir dire. “Depending on how much air time this gets, visual images do tend to leave more of a lasting image,” Adachi said. Daniel Horowitz, who’s representing one of the officers in the city officials’ sights, said he doesn’t blame his colleagues on the defense bar for trying. (Another of the video cops has hired San Francisco criminal defense lawyer James Collins.) But Horowitz says he’s sure no one will find anything to use against his client, the filmmaker who put the videos together. “That’s their job [defense attorneys]. But they’re certainly not going to find anything about Andrew Cohen,” Horowitz said. Take a scene that’s made to look like a police car has run over someone, Horowitz said. “I mean, the cop who ran over the person didn’t even know how it was going to be edited together,” he said. And, he added, “I think there’s actually quite a civil rights point being made. … How the community feels that white cops will just run over them. And it’s an acknowledgement … by Andrew, at least, that he sees that attitude.” The videos were meant to be shown at a party for a retiring captain, Horowitz noted. “Unless you’re a cop in that environment, there needs to be more context provided.”

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