Prentice E. Sanders

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Prentice E. Sanders
Born (1937-10-12) October 12, 1937 (age 79)
Nacogdoches, Texas
Other names Earl
Police career
Department San Francisco Police Department
Years of service 1964–2003
Rank Chief (2002–2003)

Prentice Earl Sanders, also known as Earl Sanders (born October 12, 1937), was a member of the San Francisco Police Department from 1964 through 2003. He became the first African American chief of that department in 2002. During his tenure, the city was rocked by the scandal known as "Fajitagate", a street brawl involving several officers followed by an impeached investigation.


Youth and education[edit]

Prentice was born in Nacogdoches, Texas, but moved to San Francisco's Laurel Heights to live with an uncle at the age of fourteen after his mother died.[1] He graduated in 1956 from George Washington High School, where he played football, joined ROTC, and was president of the Eagle Service Society.[2] Sanders served in the Army National Guard from March 1954 until October 1958, attaining the rank of Infantry Second Lieutenant.[3] He attended City College of San Francisco and achieved bachelor's (1975) and master's (1977) degrees from Golden Gate University.[4] He also taught in the 1980s as a part-time faculty member in the Criminal Justice department at San Jose State.[5]

Police officer[edit]

He joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1964. At the time Sanders joined the force, there were ferer than two dozen African American officers in the department, and the first black SFPD civil-service officers had been hired sixteen years earlier.[6] In 1966, Sanders was assigned to the Robbery Squad, and in 1971 to the homicide bureau (where he was teamed with Inspector Napoleon Hendrix from 1979 through 1995[7]). The day after Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Sanders – then on the robbery detail – solved the murder of a Muni driver in Hunters Point. In 1973, Sanders and SFPD Inspector Rotea Gilford were assigned to the Zebra killings investigation headed by white SFPD officers Gus Coreris and John Fotinos. In 1975, no African American officer joined the police and fireman strike. In 2002 Sanders and Hendrix were accused of misconduct during the 1989 murder arrest and conviction of two young African American men, colluding with prosecutors in suppressing a confession from another person.[8][9]

Officers For Justice class-action lawsuit[edit]

In 1968, Sanders was instrumental[clarification needed] in forming the Officers for Justice association. In 1973 the group filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit in federal court against SFPD, the City and County of San Francisco, and the Civil Service Commission for their failure to recruit and hire minorities. Sanders and Gilford were the ranking African-American members of SFPD, and OFJ lead counsel Robert Gnaizda stated "The lawsuit never would have occurred without Earl Sanders..."[10] The mostly white San Francisco Police Officers Association, however, chose to join the defendants.[6] In 1979 the parties entered into a consent decree,[11] under which the SFPD was to modify its hiring and promotional practices. Trial began in November 1978, and Sanders was the only witness called. Judge Peckham recessed the trial for settlement negotiations which resulted in the consent decree.

Police chief[edit]

Sanders's OFJ and civil-rights activities introduced him to lawyer Willie Brown, who appointed Sanders as an assistant chief of the SFPD when Brown was elected mayor in 1996.[12] The SFPD, under out-going chief Fred H. Lau, had been excoriated in the San Francisco Chronicle for poor results on major crime investigation,[13] so the Sanders appointment seemed to address Brown's need.[14]

Four months after his appointment, a street fight involving off-duty SFPD officers made news in the Chronicle.[15] Three months after that, SF District Attorney Terence Hallinan indicted Sanders and nine other senior SFPD officers for obstructing justice in the investigation of that incident; the accused were arrested and placed on leave. Charges against Sanders were dropped twelve days later.

During 2003 and through 2004, most of the ten accused senior officers (including 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 was declared factually innocent by the court.[16]

Before the charges against Sanders were dropped, however, Mayor Brown had publicly called for Sanders's resignation.[17] Sanders also claimed that he had suffered a mild stroke, and was unable to return to duty.[18] During his recovery period, the 1989 murder convictions of John Tennison and Antoine Goff (on which Sanders and Hendrix were the investigators) were reversed for prosecution errors.[19] In early 2004 Sanders filed a $33 million claim against the city and Hallinan.[20]


Sanders elected to retire due to stress from the investigation in August 2003. He continued to pursue his claim against the city, arguing that he had been prosecuted maliciously in the Fajitagate scandal, taking it through suit and appeals. In late October 2007, the United States Supreme Court turned down the final appeal from Saunders in his lawsuit.

In 2006, Earl Sanders and coauthor Bennet Cohen, his former lawyer, published The Zebra Murders about Sanders' career and specifically his role in the 1973–74 investigation.[10] The book has been heavily criticized by former SFPD deputy chief Kevin Mullen[21][22] and former SFPD lieutenant and SFPOA supporter Louis Calabro.[23]


Sanders married Espanola Wiley in 1960. They have two children.

Sanders has been a member of the Boulé since 1983.


  1. ^ Reiterman, Tim; Glionna, John M. (March 13, 2003). "S.F. Police Chief Recounts 'the Worst Day' of His Life". Retrieved October 28, 2016 – via LA Times. 
  2. ^ Storm, Ron Filion and Pamela. "San Francisco Genealogy - George Washington High School Commencement Program, 1956". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  3. ^ "Ancestry - Sign In". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "About Us". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  7. ^ "SFPD inspector Napoleon Hendrix dies of cancer". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  8. ^ "Antoine Goff - National Registry of Exonerations". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  9. ^ "S.F. may pay freed man $4.5 million settlement". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  10. ^ a b Russell, Ron. "Earl’s Last Laugh". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  11. ^ "OFFICERS FOR JUSTICE v. CIV. SERV. COMM. - 473 F.Supp. 801 (1979) -". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  12. ^ "S.F.'s top cop to retire next month / SANDERS: Chief leaves legacy of integrating Police Department". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  13. ^ "SFPD dead last in solving violent crime". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  14. ^ "S.F. top cop: The story behind the badge". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  15. ^ "3 off-duty S.F. cops probed in beating / Assistant chief's son, still on probation, involved in incident". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Sanders found 'factually innocent'". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Behind-the-scenes tension between Sanders, Brown". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  18. ^ "Beleaguered Chief Sanders out of office but still in loop". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  19. ^ "Ruling may free 2nd man / Both were jailed for '89 gang killing". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  20. ^ "Ex-Chief Sanders files $33 million claim". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Remembering the Zebra Killings". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 
  22. ^ Response by former deputy chief Kevin Mullen
  23. ^ " Louis E. Calabro's review of The Zebra Murders: A Season of Killing, Ra...". Retrieved October 28, 2016. 


  • Zebra Murders by Prentice Earl Sanders and Bennett Cohen
Police appointments
Preceded by
Fred H. Lau
Chief of San Francisco Police Department
Succeeded by
Alex Fagan