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San Francisco Police Chief Faces Ouster

May 14, 1992

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The police chief’s job was in the balance Thursday over accusations that he asked officers to empty newspaper racks of a gay publication that lampooned him for his get-tough policy on protesters.

The Police Commission was scheduled to meet in closed session Thursday night to consider whether Chief Richard Hongisto should be ousted. It was meeting at the request of Mayor Frank Jordan.

The City Charter gives the commission the power to fire Hongisto, but Jordan appoints the commissioners and their decision is expected to conform to his wishes.

But Jordan said he would stand by the chief unless the evidence dictated otherwise.

″Anybody is innocent until proven guilty,″ Jordan told reporters outside his City Hall office. ″Chief Hongisto has been in office two months and he has done some great work.″

Hongisto, who lost to Jordan in the November mayoral election, took over as chief just six weeks ago, undergoing a transformation from the darling of the city’s powerful liberal community to its nemesis.

Six of the 11 city supervisors have criticized Hongisto since he ordered police sweeps that resulted in more than 1,700 arrests during unrest after the verdict in the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King.

Thousands of copies of the San Francisco Bay Times removed from racks May 8 blasted Hongisto’s unexpected law-and-order approach.

″Dick’s Cool New Tool: Martial Law,″ blared a headline alongside a doctored cover photo showing Hongisto grasping a police baton in a lewd manner.

Police returned more than 2,100 copies of the twice-monthly free- distribution paper to publisher Kim Corsaro on Wednesday after investigators seized the papers from a police officer’s basement.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday that one of three vice-squad officers acted at Hongisto’s suggestion.

According to an unidentified source it cited, Hongisto told one of the officers: ‴Let’s say a bunch of cops from the Mission went out and cleared out these racks. Then, no one would be upset.‴

The officer and the two others later pulled the papers from the racks, published reports said. Police spokesman Sgt. Jerry Senkir said he could not confirm the reports and Hongisto denies he ordered the newspapers removed.

District Attorney Arlo Smith is conducting a criminal investigation into the newspaper thefts.

The appointment of Hongisto was believed aimed at appeasing the mayor’s left-leaning critics.

During his first days on the job, Hongisto took to the streets in police blues to personally arrest petty criminals in the gritty Tenderloin District. But it was his crackdown on protests following the King verdict on April 29 that alienated longtime supporters.

After looters and vandals ran amok in downtown San Francisco, Hongisto and Jordan won the supervisors’ approval for emergency powers.

But the supervisors withdrew their support the next day, alleging that a May 1 police sweep violated protesters’ right to assemble peacefully - and caught scores of innocent bystanders.

Civil libertarians were further angered after police scooped up marchers at another protest May 8.

Hongisto has long nurtured a reputation as a flamboyant maverick.

As sheriff in the 1970s, he helped integrate the department while wearing a badge emblazoned with a peace sign. He went to jail rather than evict tenants from a run-down San Francisco hotel, but later took up a sledgehammer to break down the doors.

He was fired after a brief tenure as Cleveland’s police chief and resigned after nine months as head of New York’s state corrections system.

He returned to San Francisco and was elected supervisor in 1980. He ran unsuccessfully as the liberal alternative to Jordan and then-Mayor Art Agnos.

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