D.A. and school board recall efforts bring out the worst of S.F. with taunts and alleged theft and battery


Almost every day for weeks, I’ve received e-mails, social media messages or in-person queries asking why nothing’s happened to the man in the red glasses captured in a viral video appearing to admit to swiping signed petitions aimed at qualifying a recall of three school board members for the ballot.

Well, finally there’s an update. The Police Department’s special investigations division has completed its investigation into that case, as well as another in which police cited a woman on suspicion of battery after she allegedly threw a pen at a woman collecting signatures to recall the district attorney. The department presented both cases for prosecution.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin’s office referred the cases to the California Attorney General’s Office, which has accepted both and will handle the prosecution, according to Matt Dorsey, spokesperson for the Police Department.

“Both investigations are open and active and will not be formally closed until they are closed by arrest,” Dorsey said.

It’s sad that our civil discourse has reached such low levels and that San Francisco, which prides itself on being compassionate and enlightened, has joined in the kind of immature attacks we more often associate with backers of Donald Trump.

The best way to beat back a recall of an official you support is to campaign on their behalf, stage rallies supporting them, talk them up on social media, donate to their campaign and volunteer. And to be clear, people who support recalling the school board members and Boudin can be just as rude on Twitter and elsewhere. Grow up, everybody.

Some San Franciscans wondered why it took so long for movement on the cases, but Police Chief Bill Scott said the department always took the incidents seriously.

“Any time you mess with the democratic process, it’s serious,” he said. “It’s the people’s voice we’re messing with. We did our investigation, and we’ll let the rest of the system do its job.”

The Attorney General’s Office did not return requests for comment.

In the May 30 incident, public school dad Kit Lam was collecting signatures at the Clement Street Farmers’ Market to qualify a recall of school board members Gabriela López, Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga for the ballot.

Lam said a man in red glasses approached his table and signed the petition, though it’s unclear if the man signed his real name. Lam turned his back for a moment and then turned around to see his clipboard with the petitions gone — and the man tossing it under a nearby car. A woman began filming the angry encounter, and the man in red glasses appeared to acknowledge on camera that he took the petitions before returning them.

“You caught me!” the man says.

Police identified a suspect in their presentation of the case to prosecutors, but The Chronicle does not name crime suspects if they haven’t been arrested or charged. Jewish Vocational Service in San Francisco last month announced that it had fired an employee after determining he interfered with school board recall petition-gathering. The organization would not name the employee.

Police recommended the suspect be charged with a violation of the California elections code, but it will be up to the attorney general to decide whether and how to charge the case. Police arrived on the scene after the man in red glasses had left, and it is common in such cases for police to work with the prosecuting entity to present an arrest warrant to a judge.

Lam called the developments “good news.” As of Tuesday, the campaign to recall the school board members had gathered 33,000 signatures. It needs to turn in 51,325 valid signatures of San Francisco registered voters by Sept. 7.

In another incident June 26, police responded to West Portal, where a woman collecting signatures to qualify a recall of Boudin for the ballot said another woman asked to sign the petition, but then defaced it and threw the pen in the signature gatherer’s face. A photo of the petition shows blue ink scrawled through four other people’s signatures and the words in large letters, “Eat s— and die.”

Police cited the suspect, identified as Lisabeth Maria Consuelo Collins, for battery at the scene and released her, according to Officer Robert Rueca, another spokesperson for the Police Department. After her release, she confronted the signature gatherer again and threatened her with violence, but officers could not locate her again, police said.

Andrea Shorter, a spokesperson for that recall campaign, said her team has gathered 32,000 signatures and has a deadline of Oct. 25. A different Boudin recall effort led by former Republican mayoral candidate Richie Greenberg has gathered 46,000 signatures and has a deadline of Aug. 11.

Greenberg’s campaign, too, has received its share of nastiness. He’s received numerous packages sent in the mail that appear to have signed petitions inside, but which are full of fake paperwork. They’re sent from obviously false names, some of them offensive. Greenberg said he’s shared the information with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Nancy Tung, a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, wrote a resolution related to the cases to be taken up July 28.

It calls on the committee to condemn “any illegal actions related to interference with the democratic process,” urge all Democrats to cooperate with investigations of such crimes, avoid “inadvertently contributing to a political culture which might encourage such illegal acts,” and urge law enforcement agencies to prosecute offenses “in a manner consistent with the goal of protecting our democracy.”

Tung, an Alameda County prosecutor who lost to Boudin in the D.A.’s race, said, “I don’t know what we can do to bring back civility around the discourse except to condemn this kind of behavior, and illegal behavior should be easy to condemn.”

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Heather Knight usually appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf