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Embattled Bay Area Police Chief To Be Honored

OAKLAND — A San Francisco Jewish group is moving forward with plans to honor the city’s police chief, who this week was cleared after being indicted in one of the highest-profile police scandals in recent American history.

The Bay Area Council for Jewish Rescue and Renewal, a human rights group working on behalf of Jews and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in the former Soviet Union, says one of its core efforts — “Climate of Trust,” a sort of exchange program teaching hate-crime issues to Russian law enforcement — might not exist were it not for the efforts of Police Chief Prentice Earl Sanders. The group will present Sanders with an award at a gala celebration April 3.

“It can truly be said that without Chief Sanders… without his early and enthusiastic support, I don’t think the program would’ve been as successful as it is or even got off the ground,” said Greg Smith, board secretary of the Bay Area Council. “We’re honoring the man for what he did for our organization, our mission and our constituency, the Jews in Russia. Nothing that’s happened takes away from that.”

Sanders, 65, was indicted by a grand jury February 27 along with his assistant chief, two deputy chiefs and six other police officers. The charges followed a November 2002 brawl outside a San Francisco bar, where three off-duty police officers allegedly assaulted two men. After an internal investigation uncovered a pattern of brutality complaints against one of the officers — the son of Assistant Chief Alex Fagan Sr. — the lieutenant pursuing the investigation was transferred to another assignment. The grand jury not only indicted the original three officers on assault charges, but also indicted their supervisors and highest-ranking commanders — including Sanders — for conspiracy to obstruct justice.

On March 11, however, the charges against Sanders and his assistant chief were dropped. Prosecution of the other officers and police officials will proceed.

Right around the time the indictments were being handed down, the Bay Area Council was sending out invitations to its upcoming gala reception at which Sanders is to be the guest of honor for his work on behalf of the group’s “Climate of Trust” program. The group decided to proceed with its plans to honor Sanders despite the indictment; this week’s events, they said, only reinforce that decision.

“We’re delighted that Chief Sanders was cleared,” Smith said Tuesday. “We’re hopeful that this will pave the way for him to accept the award in person. Given the circumstances… there was some thought on our part he might not be able to make it, but hopefully this will make it easier for him to attend.”

The “Climate of Trust” program is broken into three phases conducted over the course of about a year. In the first phase, a 15-person delegation of Russian city officials, police administrators, attorneys, human rights workers and minority community leaders visit San Francisco for a week of seminars and workshops with their American counterparts to share perspectives and experiences.

In the second phase, the American and Russian delegations meet again in Russia for a three-day seminar, joined by a few dozen regional police officers, Interior Ministry officials, prosecutors, city administrators, educators, human rights advocates and journalists.

The third phase is an intensive one-week symposium at European University in St. Petersburg, Russia, for selected participants chosen for their ability to work within their communities to affect change. The symposium is followed by monthly assignments and briefs participants must complete while continuing their work in promoting ethnic and religious tolerance.

Smith said when the group conceived of the program in 1999, he went to San Francisco Board of Supervisors member Michael Yaki seeking the city’s help. Sanders, who was then the police department’s assistant chief, met with Yaki, Smith and council executive director Pnina Levermore, and said a recent trip to Russia as part of a State Department mission had familiarized him with hate-crime issues police there were facing.

“On the spot, he offered to do whatever the department could do short of funding it,” Smith recalled. Sheldon Wolfe, another board member, said a few people had called the Bay Area Council’s office to question the plans to honor Sanders after the indictment was handed down, but once they heard the council’s rationale, they seemed comfortable. And now that Sanders has been cleared, Wolfe said, the group has been vindicated.

“I think our judgment in not jumping to conclusions was the right thing to do,” Wolfe said. “Everybody is entitled to his day in court — or in this case, his non-day in court.”

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