The San Francisco Public Defender’s office has accused a Latino police officer of racially discriminating against Latino drug dealers in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
According to public defense attorneys for one of the neighborhood’s alleged drug dealers, Sgt. Daniel Solorzano arrested 53 people for drug sales over a roughly two-year period, all of whom were Latino. Meanwhile, they claim he declined to arrest 43 other people who the police had detained or surveilled, all but two of whom were non-Latino.
Solorzano is of Mexican and Nicaraguan heritage and his first language is Spanish.
The motion filed by the Public Defender last March under the California Racial Justice Act is requesting “all records or memoranda regarding any investigation, by SFPD or San Francisco District Attorney’s office, of drug sales enforcement activity in the Tenderloin District.”
If the court agrees with the allegation of “racial bias and animus toward Hispanic or Latinx persons,” suspects arrested by Solorzano could be freed or have their charges reduced, and Solorzano could face disciplinary action, possibly including termination.
Solorzano, who has worked for 14 years with the San Francisco Police Department — 12 in the Tenderloin — is not giving interviews with the media, and has been reassigned to a different detail as he awaits the judge’s ruling on his case.
“The Public Defender’s Office is targeting Sgt. Solorzano because he is a champion in the battle against the epidemic of fentanyl deaths in San Francisco,” wrote Solorzano’s lawyer, Nicole Pifori, in an email. “This year alone he has taken over 18 pounds of drugs off the street. These motions are nothing but a form of harassment designed to dissuade the police from protecting San Franciscans from the scourge created by fentanyl sales in the Tenderloin.”
The motion further suggests that the District Attorney’s office, then led by left-wing Chesa Boudin, violated the law by charging Latinos in the Tenderloin with more serious crimes than suspects of other races arrested for comparable offenses. The Public Defender’s office declined to comment.
“The SFPD does have a long and current problem with racial disparities in arrests,” said John Hamasaki, a criminal defense lawyer and former member of the San Francisco Police Commission who is running for the office of District Attorney, which will be elected in November.
Solorzano’s defenders point out that almost all of the Tenderloin’s drug dealers are Latino.
Most of the non-prescription drugs peddled in the Tenderloin are sold by dealers of Honduran nationality recruited by Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, making at least $1,000 a day each, said Tom Ostly, a former prosecutor in the San Francisco DA’s office. San Francisco is one of five US cities the Sinaloa cartel-supplied Honduran recruits operate in, he said.
“Maybe it’s the cartel that’s racist for only hiring from one ethnic group and national origin,” said Ostly. “When the defense used to argue a particular race was being targeted I would suggest they contact the Sinaloa Cartel and tell their HR department they need to implement a more robust diversity plan that aligns with San Francisco values.”
As for the 43 people Solorzano did not arrest, the Public Defender could identify only five of them by name, and acknowledge that all five were users who were holding drugs for the dealers — a much lesser offense than dealing. The Public Defender could not identify the names or crimes of the remaining 36 people who hadn’t been arrested.
“We don’t control who sells drugs in the Tenderloin,” added Lt. Tracy McCray, an SFPD officer and president of the city’s police union, who grew up in San Francisco. “I was a teenager in the ’80s. We had dealers who were white and black selling in the Tenderloin. Now, today, it’s Latino drug dealers. What do you want us to do? We don’t pick and choose.”
Ostly, who has prosecuted dozens of drug dealers in the Tenderloin including ones arrested by Solorzano, said that Solorzano is a compassionate officer who is friendly toward those he arrests and works hard to resolve problems in ways that avoid incarceration. Ostly said Solorzano would regularly try to help dealers find alternative sources of income.
“It was obvious he cared about the well-being and future of the dealers, too,” Ostly said.
McCray, who also worked alongside Solorzano when both were assigned to the city’s Bayview Station, praised Solorzano’s work ethic and professionalism. She is outraged about the racism charges.
“I’m black,” she said. “I grew up in a black community. If you do wrong, you do wrong. It doesn’t matter what race you are.”
McCray believes the public defender’s office is trying to “weaponize a law and craft it for their own use” to get drug dealers off the hook. She says it’s the responsibility of the District Attorney and the City Attorney to defend Solorzano, but, “it is falling to us (the union) to do their jobs to defend him — and we will.”