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Fajitagate was a series of legal and political incidents in San Francisco which began with a street fight on November 20, 2002. The fight involved three off-duty San Francisco Police officers, Alex Fagan Jr., David Lee, and Matt Tonsing, and two San Francisco residents, Adam Snyder and Jade Santoro.


As reported the next day in the San Francisco Chronicle,[1] Snyder and Santoro reported that they were leaving the bar when they were approached by three men who demanded a bag of take out food (the eponymous fajitas) which Snyder[2] was taking home. Snyder refused and Santoro told them to leave him alone, words were exchanged, a fight broke out, a beer bottle or some blunt object was thrown, and minor injuries were suffered by Snyder and serious injuries by Santoro. Snyder called 911 on his cellphone, reporting Santoro was being beaten. He then identified as attackers three men in a white pickup truck that drove past the scene to responding officers. The pickup was stopped, and the three off-duty officers were identified and questioned then let go. No arrests were made that night.


The scandal subsequently expanded and would take until 2005 to reach a final criminal resolution. Accused police officer Alex Fagan, Jr. was the son of then San Francisco Police Department assistant Chief (later Chief) Alex Fagan. It was subsequently alleged by then San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan that the elder Fagan, then-SFPD Chief Earl Sanders, and nine other officers were involved in a coverup of the initial November 20, 2002 criminal acts of the three off-duty officers. Sanders and nine other senior officers were indicted by Hallinan and arrested on February 28, 2003, for the crime of obstruction of justice. Sanders took a leave of absence due to the charges, and Alex Fagan, Sr., the next most senior officer automatically became the acting chief. Acting Chief Alex Fagan Sr. in turn resigned in early 2004, and was replaced by Heather Fong on Jan 22, 2004.



The court cases against senior police staff continued through 2003. Hallinan dropped charges against Chief Sanders on March 11, unable to prove a conspiracy had existed. Charges were dropped against almost all the other defendants on April 4, 2003. A key ruling in the case was that under California law, Obstruction of Justice required that there be an active conspiracy of persons who agreed to subvert justice, and not merely an individual or set of individuals acting on their own. Hallinan originally claimed such a conspiracy, but phone and office logs established that there could not have been any significant collusion. Hallinan publicly called for the law to be amended to allow individuals to be charged for independent actions.

Later in 2003 and through 2004, most of the senior officers including then ex-Chief Sanders pursued legal appeals to clear their names of the underlying factual claims regarding the obstruction. Sanders and several others were eventually cleared by courts. Sanders took early retirement which he claimed was due to stress from the investigation.

Criminal court cases in the original beating against Officers Fagan and Lee were resolved in 2004-5. Officer Lee was found not guilty on November 21, 2004, and Fagan was found not guilty on March 28, 2005.[3]

Many officers were charged by the Office of Citizen Complaints for misconduct in the incident. In March 2007, Inspector Paul Falconer and Lt. Henry Para successfully challenged their misconduct charges in a closed hearing of the Police Commission. They were exonerated of all the charges brought against them. In March 2007, many of the officers charged by the Office of Citizen Complaints made deals with the San Francisco Police Commission for time off. At the end of the hearing, one police commissioner stated that it appeared that none of the officers charged by the OCC had done anything wrong.

Civil trial[edit]

On June 12, 2006, a civil jury found former officers Fagan and Tonsing liable for damages suffered in the beating, awarding plaintiff Jade Santoro $36,500 in damages. The jury found in favor of Tonsing but against Fagan on plaintiff Adam Snyder's claim, awarding Snyder $9,500. The jury completely exonerated David Lee and Snyder was ordered to pay both Lee and Tonsing's defense costs [4][5]

A federal court dismissed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of San Francisco in 2006, a decision upheld on appeal in July, 2008 on the basis that the plaintiffs had not shown at trial that any police policy or practice was to blame for the officers' conduct.[6]


  1. ^ 3 off-duty S.F. cops probed in beating, from sfgate.com, accessed June 4, 2006
  2. ^ Sebastian, Simone (October 24, 2003). "Santoro testifies against 3 officers / Beating victim says he didn't provoke alleged attack". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  3. ^ "Acquittal Reached in 'Fajitagate' Brawl". Los Angeles Times. 30 March 2005. Retrieved 29 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Civil jury finds against two cops in 2002 Fajitagate case Bob Egelko, at sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper website, accessed June 12, 2006.
  5. ^ Brian D. Seibel, defense counsel for Tonsing,
  6. ^ Bob Egelko (2008-07-23). "Court refuses to revive Fajitagate lawsuit against S.F.". San Francisco Chronicle. 

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