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April 23, 2014

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Grand jury indicts 6 current, former officers

Updated Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 | 11:29 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Six current and former San Francisco police officers have been indicted by federal grand juries, and three of the officers have been charged with stealing money, drugs, electronics and gift cards seized during investigations.

According to the indictment, the three took items they seized during an arrest in 2009, including a $500 Apple gift card. Two days later, one of them used the gift card to buy an iPhone and iPod Nano, prosecutors said Thursday

They were identified as Sgt. Ian Furminger, 47, of Pleasant Hill; Officer Edmond Robles, 46, of Danville; and former officer Reynaldo Vargas, 45, of Palm Desert.

The officers were suspended without pay and had their guns taken away, Police Chief Greg Suhr said shortly after the indictments were announced.

"Our department is shaken. This is as serious as an issue as I can recall in my time in the department," said an emotional Suhr, who has been with the San Francisco Police Department since 1981.

Suhr said federal authorities assured him the arrests did not reflect a systemic problem in the department.

Furminger, Robles and Vargas each face two drug-related counts carrying a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. They also face a charge of civil rights conspiracy that carries a sentence of up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine.

In another incident the same month, the indictment says, the officers took marijuana. Vargas is accused of delivering the pot to two informants and asking them to sell it and split the proceeds with him, Furminger and Robles.

In a separate indictment, three officers were charged with civil rights violations. Prosecutors say the officers entered hotel rooms illegally and intimidated occupants.

The charges were based on surveillance footage from a hotel in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood that was released by the city's public defender, Jeff Adachi, in 2011. Adachi claimed the videos of plainclothes officers contradicted police reports and sworn police testimony.

Those three defendants were identified as Officer Arshad Razzak, 41, and Officer Richard Yick, 37, both of San Francisco; and Officer Raul Eric Elias, 44, of San Mateo. All face three civil rights charges that carry possible penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The indictment did not provide additional detail about the alleged illegal searches. But a civil lawsuit filed by three occupants of the Hotel Henry in 2012 said Razzak, Elias, and three other officers got the hotel's master key and forced their way into rooms without a search warrant or the occupants' consent on two separate occasions. They allegedly searched the occupants and the room and then made drug arrests.

According to the lawsuit, a judge concluded that video evidence contradicted the officers' testimony and dismissed criminal charges against the defendants.

The defendants in turn filed a lawsuit against the arresting officers and police departments. The Board of Supervisors approved a $150,000 settlement in December.

Razzak and Yick have also been charged with falsifying police reports.

None of the defendants in either indictment could be reached for comment.

Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said in a statement that the indictments were apparently based on the questionable testimony of unreliable informant witnesses.

"However, we do understand that these are nonetheless serious charges," Halloran said. "It is important to remember that the accused officers will have their day in court since federal grand juries only hear one side of the story."

Adachi said his clients had for years reported that their rights were being violated.

"I commend the U.S. attorney for taking seriously the reports from ordinary citizens who had been humiliated, stolen from and hurt by police officers sworn to protect them," he said in a statement.

One of the videos Adachi released in 2011 shows two officers walking into a residential hotel empty-handed and leaving with bags that Adachi said weren't booked into evidence.

Allegations stemming from the released videos led to the dismissal of dozens of criminal cases.

The charges came after San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon referred the investigation to federal authorities, citing a conflict of interest, federal prosecutors said. Gascon was the police chief at the time the alleged conduct occurred.

"I am relieved to know that the officers have been indicted, after I referred the matter to federal authorities," Gascon said in a statement Thursday. "It is extremely disappointing that the officers violated the trust of the community and tarnished the reputation of all the hard working men and women in uniform."

Vargas was expected to appear before a judge Thursday, prosecutors said. The other five defendants were scheduled to appear in court Friday.

FBI Director James Comey, who was in San Francisco speaking at a technology conference, declined to discuss the cases.

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Associated Press writer Channing Joseph contributed to this report.