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SF officers violated Spanish-speaking woman’s rights, panel says

Updated 4:19 pm, Tuesday, May 17, 2016

San Francisco review board says police violated the rights of a Spanish-speaking woman who complained of domestic violence but was denied an interpreter, was told to speak English and was eventually arrested based on her ex-partner’s unsubstantiated claims.

Police Chief Greg Suhr disciplined at least one of the officers, issuing a written reprimand and ordering him to take additional training. A lawyer for the woman who filed the complaint said Tuesday that the punishment was too light and should have included at least a suspension.

“It sends a message to officers that they do not need to comply” with Police Department policies, said attorney Angela Chan of Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus.

Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a police spokesman, said Suhr took “appropriate action” in the case. He did not give details or identify the officer.

The woman, Dora Mejia, said her ex-partner had sexually assaulted her in her Mission District apartment in May 2014, and called police to falsely accuse her of attacking him. When officers arrived, the ex-partner had left.

Mejia said the officers refused to provide her with a Spanish-language interpreter, told her to communicate in English the best she could, and showed no interest when she tried to describe past abuses. They then provided an interpreter to her ex-partner for a phone interview, listened to his account and arrested her, leaving her three children with him, she said.

Mejia was kept in jail overnight, but was released on bond and freed when prosecutors declined to charge her. She has sued the officers and the city, seeking damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, and court orders requiring compliance with department policies. Chan said one of those policies, adopted in 2007, requires police to identify a person’s primary language and provide interpretive services, either through a bilingual officer in person or by telephone.

In a report on the case in September, the city’s Office of Citizen Complaints found that the officers had violated department policies on language services, had failed to properly investigate the case and had arrested Mejia “without cause.” Chan provided the report to The Chronicle this week.

One of the officers spoke to Mejia’s 5-year-old daughter, who said she had seen her mother’s partner get on top of her and tried to kiss her before she pushed him away. Police ignored that evidence and, by failing to provide an interpreter, prevented Mejia from explaining her case or contradicting her ex-partner, the office’s report said.

Police Department records show that Suhr reprimanded one unidentified officer in October. Chan said the reprimand was only for “neglect of duty” and did not cover Mejia’s wrongful arrest.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: egelko



MUA - Mujeres Unidas y Activas

MUA is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women with a dual mission of personal transformation and community power. Creating an environment of understanding and confidentiality, MUA empowers and educates our members through mutual support and training to be leaders in their own lives and in the community. Working with diverse allies, MUA promotes unity and civic-political participation to achieve social justice.

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