Report of Ongoing Police Abuse
of Prostitute Case
by Carol Leigh
About a year ago, a woman I had known regularly while doing outreach on the streets, told me that an officer had arrested her and in the process said, "You black whores, you're all trash. I'm going to see you dead in an alley some time and I'll be glad."
She replied to him, "You don't have the right to talk to me like that." The officer, Greg Breslin, then punched her very hard in the face. The victim filed a report about the incident. Another officer, Steve Mooney, witnessed this and made a report concerning this incident.
The victim informed me that the Police Commission was investigating, and that the officer is being charged through Internal Affairs. The case was charged in November 1994, and coming before the Commission in August 1995. Commissioner Hewlit is overseeing this investigation for the Police Commission.
I spoke with Lt. Baretta of the Police Commission in late August. He thanked me for calling, and was supportive. Lt. Baretta explained that she is a crucial witness (she’s the victim) and he said they were very concerned that she testify. He said they were glad to have support for her.
The date for the hearing had been postponed from early August until August 23rd (at 850 Bryant, Police Commission Hearing Rm 551) I expressed concern to the attorney prosecuting the case, that she was on the street, and as a person testifying in a case of this sort, she could be vulnerable. Jerry Akins, the attorney, said that he was also concerned for her safety during this postponement and was assured by the attorney representing Breslin that 'nothing would happen to her.'
During the hearing, the victim was very composed, and came across as a down to earth, reasonable and proud person. It came out that the officer who had struck her had torn the earring out of her ear in the process. The attorney for Breslin implied that the victim was extremely rowdy and that the officer had an excuse for hitting her as she was handcuffed to the bench. This assertion was apparently exaggerated, and was a sharp contrast to the demean of the victim during the hearing.
The attorney for Greg Breslin attempted to suggest that the victim was a 'chronic complainer' about police abuse, and had attacked police officers on other occasions, which was not that case. One case involved an incident in southern California in a town which the victim had never even been. Despite a complete absence of evidence, the attorney for Greg Breslin pursued this attempt to smear the victim's position, based on this assertion.
Another incident involved another vice officer (who is notorious for abusive language and discriminatory treatment of women on the street) who claimed that the victim did not conduct herself appropriately in the course of an interaction. Although the officer who reported the incident had not made a report at the time, and his account was substantially different than the victim's, the defense attorney used the statement made by the second officer in an attempt to impeach the witness.
In early October there was a fairly scandalous rumor that the case was 'pulled' to protect the rights of the police officer, Greg Breslin. I have heard that this effort to 'pull' the case is being challenged, although I am not sure of the details.
Because of the marginalization of those who work on the street compounded by the criminalization of prostitution, it is difficult for prostitutes to seek recourse for crimes committed against them.
Prostitutes are unable to make complaints against officers in cases of illegal arrest, misconduct and abuse, as they are highly dependent on the good graces of the police, who 'oversee' street activities.
Prostitutes are also unlikely to go to the police, because of her/his criminal status, in cases of domestic violence, or if they are raped or robbed. Although the issue of complaints of repeated abuse of prostitutes have been brought to the attention Vice Squad Officers Curran and Dutto, the department insists that complaints must be filed against individual officers in order for action to be taken. Prostitute's advocates found this proposal unworkable for the above reasons, but hoped to find alternatives.
AB1035 (currently on the floor of the Senate, and soon to pass) grants wide discretion to the police in terms of arrests of people suspected of loitering with the intent to engage in prostitution or drug dealing. What will this mean to people on the streets? This wider police discretion has yet to be factored into an equation which already equals lack of civil rights for many marginalized San Franciscans.