Questions Raised About Handling of Adachi Investigation

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A march in Jeff Adachi’s memory began at the Public Defender’s Office and ended at City Hall on Wednesday night. A memorial was planned for Friday at the Asian Art Museum and a service on Monday at 11 a.m. in the City Hall Rotunda. (KPIX)

Rafu Staff Report

SAN FRANCISCO — Friends and supporters of San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Feb. 22, are suggesting that the authorities are mishandling the investigation, possibly in an attempt to sully Adachi’s reputation.

Adachi, 59, who had just started his fifth term as the state’s only elected public defender, was taken ill while having dinner with a friend in North Beach. According to a police report, the friend took Adachi to an apartment on Telegraph Hill, then called 911 when Adachi became unresponsive. He was taken to California Pacific Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The friend, identified only as Caterina, was no longer at the apartment when police arrived, but police sources told ABC7 that they were later able to contact her and that she still had Adachi’s cell phone. Sources told NBC Bay Area that the woman is a Colombian national whose real name is Catalina.

The initial incident report was released to local news media, including The San Francisco Chronicle, from unidentified sources. Police have said publicly that the investigation is ongoing but no foul play is suspected.

“The department is concerned with the unauthorized release of the police report and is investigating allegations of improper conduct and release of the report,” said Sgt. Michael Andraychak, an SFPD spokesman. “The department understands and respects the sensitivity and privacy of investigations of this nature.”

Some TV stations broadcast photos taken by police at the apartment, showing an unmade bed, bottles of alcohol, cannabis-infused gummies, and syringes, the latter of which may have been left by paramedics.

Adachi frequently crusaded against police misconduct. In one case, he posted surveillance video showing officers entering a suspect’s hotel room without a warrant and stealing valuables. He also exposed racist and homophobic comments in text messages among officers.

His efforts to address the city’s budget crisis by reducing pensions raised the ire of city employees, particularly the police and fire departments.

Tim Redmond of the news site 48 Hills wrote on Sunday, “Some of the TV news coverage of Jeff Adachi’s death has been utterly repugnant. Channel 4 and Channel 7 seem to be trying to outdo each other with ‘scoops’ based on reports that I am almost certain were leaked by the cops, many of whom hated Adachi.

“Police reports aren’t public. When the police shoot and kill young people of color, their families can’t get those reports. But when Adachi died in an apartment in North Beach, not only the reports but photos taken by the officers wound up on the TV news. Where do you supposed those came from? Why do you suppose they wound up with the sensation-driven TV stations?”

Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez, acting head of the Public Defender’s Office and a longtime friend of Adachi, told The Chronicle that the leaks may be an attempt “to make the circumstances … more salacious.”

“I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been a fighter against them and battled them the way he did,” said Gonzalez. “It was professional battle, and if they want to turn it into a personal thing, that’s on their conscience, but we’re all very proud of Jeff in this office.”

Gonzalez. who told ABC7 that Adachi had a “persistent cough” during his most recent trial late last year and had been seeing a specialist, suggested that Adachi’s death was due to natural causes.

Joe Kukura of local news site SFist wrote, “There is absolutely nothing in these reports that shows real malfeasance … Still, it’s curious that we’re reading leaked details about another ‘woman,’ the renting of an apartment, and entirely unnecessary mentions of alcohol, cannabis, and syringes. Certainly the incident ought to be investigated, as any death should, but the information coming out makes it seem like Adachi’s decades-old battles with law enforcement — on behalf of defendants and otherwise — may continue even after his passing.”

Members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday called for an investigation into the leaks, according to The San Francisco Examiner.

“This is not just an issue with high-profile cases, but this is an issue really about public trust and whether members of the public can trust whether they and their loved ones are not being exposed to an unwarranted invasion of privacy,” said Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer.

“It seems to be without precedent that this was leaked to the press,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin. “The fact that Jeff Adachi stood up to aspects of Police Department behavior that were unacceptable does not mean that he should be mistreated after his passing.”

ABC7 reported on Tuesday that the man leading the investigation, Medical Examiner’s Director of Operations Christopher Wirowek, has a history with Adachi. Just three weeks before his death, Adachi tried to get Wirowek fired for lying in a homicide case about his office’s accreditation with the National Association of Medical Examiners.

“The Medical Examiner’s Office had lost their accreditation with that national organization at least a year earlier, perhaps two years earlier. Mr. Wirowek knew that,” Danielle Harris of the Public Defender’s Office told ABC7.

“There’s insinuations that someone could have had access to the scene, and could’ve changed things. Well, maybe Mr. Wiroweck had access to the scene previously. Maybe that wasn’t the first time he was there that night.”

Wiroweck, who interviewed witnesses at the scene on the night of the incident, declined ABC7’s requests for comment.

An autopsy was conducted over the weekend. The San Francisco Medical Examiner said in a statement on Monday, “At this time, there is no report as testing is ongoing. It will be several weeks before the case is finalized and at that time, the report will become available.”

Sources told NBC Bay Area that preliminary autopsy findings indicate that Adachi suffered from extensive heart disease.

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