Father and Son at Center of San Francisco Police Storm

Times Staff Writers

The police lieutenant's home phone rang about 3 a.m. A desk sergeant was on the line, and the news wasn't good. There was "a problem," the sergeant reported, "with Fagan's kid."

Thus began the story of a father and son -- two cops from this city's old school -- who are now at the heart of a crisis in the San Francisco Police Department.

The father, Alex Emanuel Fagan, 52, is a charming survivor who got into a couple of messy, off-duty scrapes that might have stalled other men's careers. Instead, with Chief Prentice Earl Sanders on medical leave, Assistant Chief Fagan is running the department.

The son, Alex Eric Fagan, 23, is a handsome former high school track star and triathlete who was in trouble from almost the moment he pinned on a badge. He faces felony charges stemming from a November street brawl that has rocked this city and plunged the Police Department into turmoil.

Charges were dismissed last week against the elder Fagan and Sanders, but five police commanders face charges of conspiracy to cover up the brawl, and three street cops face an array of assault and battery charges.

In the tight-knit world of a big city police force, the Fagans were royalty. They were Irish and had the look of cops. They had a straight, strong bearing and good manners, continuing a tradition where sons follow in their fathers' footsteps.

The Fagans differed, though, in one very important way. While the father kept his troubles off-duty, the son took them to work.

In just over a year, the rookie patrolman ran up such a serious string of clashes with residents that his supervisor extended his probation and assigned him to anger management classes.

Sgt. Vickie Stansberry reported in September that other patrol officers had refused to ride with the younger Fagan, citing an array of complaints: "driving too fast, driving through stop signs without stopping or slowing, use of force, unprofessional treatment of suspects, poking his finger in suspects' chests, yelling in suspects' faces, talking down to suspects."

In one incident, Fagan allegedly kicked a suspect and had to be ordered by other cops to move away. Stansberry said the young officer later confessed his frustrations, saying that he was in no mood to show leniency toward a medical marijuana user who was growing dozens of cannabis plants.

"If this were the '70s," she quoted Fagan as saying, "I could have kicked that guy's ass and sent him on his way like he deserved. I have a problem with authority."

But even those incidents didn't necessarily make Alex Eric Fagan anything special. He was just a young cop with a string of excessive force complaints. That was before Nov. 20, 2002.

After a promotion party for his father, the younger Fagan and a couple of pals -- all out of uniform and off-duty -- came across two strangers outside a San Francisco bar. The cops demanded a bag of steak fajitas from one of the men. The brawl that followed got Fagan arrested and cast a fierce public spotlight on his father and the rest of the 2,250-member police force.

On Feb. 27, a San Francisco grand jury indicted Police Chief Sanders, Assistant Chief Fagan and five other police commanders for allegedly covering up the brawl.

The charges against Sanders and the elder Fagan were dropped Wednesday after Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan conceded that there was not enough evidence to convict them.

Fagan insists that his son's case won't undermine his ability to run the department. But he says the events have hurt so much that he can no longer watch TV or read the newspapers.

"For me, the hardest thing was the realization from the very start that I had to absolutely stay out of it," he said of the beating case. "I couldn't even talk to my son about the incident. Think of a parent's role in aiding their child, and you know you've been eliminated from that role."

The scrutiny only promises to grow: the father running a police department dogged by scandal; the son facing felony assault and battery charges.

Over a 31-year police career, the elder Fagan has had his own off-duty problems.

In 1990, he was arrested in San Mateo County after he allegedly grabbed a California Highway Patrol officer and threatened another officer who were responding to a report of a roadside argument between Fagan and a female companion. Although Fagan was never charged in the case, the San Francisco Police Commission suspended him for 15 days and assigned him to an 18-month alcohol treatment program.

In September 2000, following an afternoon Giants game at PacBell Park, the elder Fagan slammed his police-issue Crown Victoria into a parked car and quickly departed the scene, leaving his teenage daughter behind, according to news accounts. Uniformed officers later arrived to pick up the stranded daughter. Fagan said he exchanged information with the other driver, as required. Again, Fagan was not charged.

But after an investigation by Internal Affairs, he served a month without pay.

"I've done some things I'm not proud of," he said. "But I've been punished for what I've done, and I've never made any excuses. I think those problems have helped me make better decisions today."

Widely Respected

Neither incident impeded Fagan's rapid rise to the top of the department, where he has been widely respected as a hard-working, fair and talented administrator.

The elder Fagan seemed able to compartmentalize his carousing. He went on annual hunting trips to Colorado with fellow officers for deer and other big game. Retired Deputy Chief Joaquin Santos recalled that there was plenty of drinking on the outings.

"We had a good time up in the mountains," he said. "Got a heat on, yelled and screamed. We were not angels. But when we put on a suit [and went to work], we cleaned up pretty good. Business was business."

Alex Emanuel Fagan grew up in the working class East Bay city of Richmond and graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in criminology. He went on to earn his master's degree in criminal justice administration from San Jose State University.

That education, his dynamic personality and his personal polish helped him climb through the ranks, but it also made him some enemies. "Alex is basically the type of person who everyone thinks had a silver spoon," Santos said. "He always had good assignments. He was a big preppy guy, all the time wearing all his Cal stuff ...

"But he rolls up his sleeves [at work] and gets down and dirty.... He knows how to sweat."

His assignments included stints in narcotics, homicide and in the Fiscal Division, where he was put in charge of the department's $285-million annual budget.

Longtime friend Jack Kerrigan, a Department of Justice investigator and former San Francisco police captain who once supervised the elder Fagan, called him a dedicated police officer. "I would recommend him for any position of honor and trust," Kerrigan said.

Despite Fagan's off-duty troubles, Mayor Willie Brown appointed him assistant chief last year under Sanders.

"He's the mechanic in the department," Brown said recently. "He does the day to day: Count the cars, count the manpower, watch the budget. That's all under his umbrella. The chief is the out-front guy who gives the orders and all that business. Fagan literally is like the staff sergeant."

Fagan is a favorite in the Irish American community here, helping organize the annual St. Patrick's Day parade and performing charitable work. "He has a reputation as a good man, a cop's cop," said Father Michael Healy, the department's Catholic chaplain.

In 1988, while Fagan was still working in narcotics, the family moved to Orinda, a bucolic community of lush golf courses and good schools east of Berkeley. Young Alex was 8 years old.

It didn't take long for the Fagans to become big hits in the neighborhood: the policeman father, schoolteacher mother and their two good-looking, well-mannered children and their frisky German short-haired pointer, Tracker.

"They were wonderful neighbors, kind of an all-American family," said next-door neighbor Jim Kendell. "Both parents devoted a lot of time to their kids."

Jackie Kendell, Jim's wife, recalled the winter day when Fagan and his son came over unannounced to help the older couple take down their Christmas tree ornaments. Jackie Kendell said Fagan set very high standards, both physically and academically, for his son, adding: "Maybe a little too strict, maybe a little too high."

According to childhood friend Jon-Erik Milan, the younger Fagan knew from an early age that he wanted to be a cop. "He wanted to follow in his father's footsteps," said Milan, an airline pilot who lives in Indianapolis. "He didn't talk about it much, but you could tell he was proud of his dad."

As the younger Fagan grew into manhood, he developed into an outstanding track athlete, so well-muscled that he would turn heads as he jogged shirtless along the streets of hilly Orinda.

"He was hard-working, polite, a ... good-looking kid. He was a look-you-in-the-eye, shake-your-hand-firmly kid," recalled Orinda real estate agent Clark Thompson. "Both of my daughters thought he was a babe beyond babes."

Fagan dated one of the prettiest girls -- also an outstanding athlete -- at Miramonte High School and accompanied her to church functions. The 1997 Miramonte High School yearbook predictions were optimistic about his future: "Alex Fagan will win the gold medal in the triathlon in the next Olympics."

Another yearbook entry turned out to be prophetic. Fagan, who would later be criticized by superiors for his reckless, high-speed behavior behind the wheel, was voted by his classmates: "Most fearless driver."

His parents' separation and subsequent divorce hit Fagan hard. Miramonte track coach Otis McCain said Fagan would come by his home occasionally for counseling. But the strain at home cut into his training routine and affected his schoolwork.

In 2001, after just a year at the University of Arizona, he enrolled at the San Francisco Police Academy. At graduation, the father pinned the badge on his son.

Once on the force, Fagan quickly developed a profile much like his father's -- as a stand-up cop with impeccable manners. But he almost immediately came under fire, too. By April 2002, he had already accumulated at least three instances of using "reportable force" in making arrests, prompting an automatic review from his supervisor, Stansberry.

Monitoring Behavior

In her first review, Stansberry concluded that there was "not a negative pattern of conduct."

"Officer Fagan is a very productive officer," Stansberry wrote. "He is often the first on the scene and is usually in the thick of things. This may contribute to the many hands-on arrests that Officer Fagan has made." Despite her generally positive review, Stansberry promised to monitor Fagan's behavior.

On July 23, 2002, Fagan and a partner participated in the arrest of Kevin Jordan, a 27-year-old Los Angeles native. Jordan said later that he was anxiously going through possessions in his car in the parking lot of a Toys "R" Us store, searching for his misplaced car keys.

Jordan said in an interview that Fagan and his partner, Jason Kristal, threw him to the ground and began "beating me up" -- causing severe cuts to his face, breaking his ribs and puncturing a lung. Jordan, who is gay, said both officers also used "homophobic language" during the beating.

The subsequent police report, charging Jordan with "resisting arrest," states that Fagan and his partner were under the impression that the slightly built Jordan might be reaching for a weapon. Jordan spent nearly three months behind bars before the charges were dismissed.

After recognizing Fagan from news reports after the Nov. 20 incident, Jordan filed a lawsuit against Fagan and Kristal, seeking $1.25 million for physical and mental injuries. It is one of three lawsuits and five citizens' complaints pending against the younger Fagan for incidents beginning last summer.

On Sept. 18, Stansberry arrived at another arrest scene, this time in Haight-Ashbury, where she found an enraged Fagan "pacing around the suspect," who was bleeding from a head wound and claiming that the young cop had kicked him.

Fagan and the other officer at the scene said the suspect hit his head on a tree after they physically removed him from a public bus for being drunk and disorderly. Stansberry reported that she tried to separate Fagan from the suspect, but that he repeatedly refused her order to get in a patrol car. Fagan continued to yell at the suspect, she said, at one point leaning close to his face and whispering: "I'm going to ... kill you."

Once in her car, Fagan started yelling at her for "embarrassing" him in front of his partner. Finally, Stansberry said, he calmed down, saying, "I hate it here. I'm going to quit. I'm putting applications into other agencies."

Stansberry concluded that Fagan's behavior had veered out of control. She recommended that Fagan get anger management training and have his probation extended.

Still on Probation

By the time a party celebrating the elder Fagan's promotion to assistant chief rolled around two months later, his son was still on probation. The party was held at the House of Prime Rib, and owner Joe Betz said it was a well-behaved crowd that drank only moderately.

When the younger Fagan left about 1:30 a.m., a man in the restaurant said, he was "not intoxicated at all." Less than an hour later, young Fagan and two other rookie cops allegedly attacked two strangers.

Suspended by the department, the younger Fagan has taken a temporary job with a trucking company. Regardless of how the case is resolved, the father stands behind the son.

"I have to be very blunt: I will always be a father," the elder Fagan said. "Careers end. I'll be a police officer until somebody replaces me. I love my son. I am very proud of my son, and I will never turn my back on him."

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Times correspondent Carol Pogash contributed to this report.

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