Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

SF supes approve settlement in lawsuit against gay former sheriff’s lieutenant

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted this week to pay $50,000 to a man who’d accused a gay former sheriff’s lieutenant of domestic violence.

Former sheriff's lieutenant Vincent Calvarese in 2012 (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)

Former sheriff’s lieutenant Vincent Calvarese in 2012 (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)

In a plea bargain reached in May 2013, Vincent Calvarese, 50, the ex-lieutenant, entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge. The charge stemmed from a July 2012 incident in which he allegedly attacked the victim, who was in his early 30s at the time.

Calvarese was sentenced to three years of adult probation, 150 hours of community service, 52 weeks of counseling, and ordered to stay away from the victim. He retired from the sheriff’s department this spring.

In August 2013, the victim filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming his civil rights had been violated because he’d been unlawfully detained, among other complaints.

The victim had sought $75,000 through the lawsuit, in which he listed Calvarese, the sheriff’s department, and the city as defendants. (The Bay Area Reporter doesn’t publish the names of domestic violence victims without their permission.)

Tuesday, December 9, nine supervisors voted in favor of the settlement. Supervisor Eric Mar was absent. Former board President David Chiu recently took his seat in the state Assembly, and his supervisor’s seat is still vacant. The second and final vote on the settlement is set for December 16.

According to the victim’s federal complaint, the problem started when he and Calvarese saw each other at the Gold’s Gym (currently Fitness SF) at 2301 Market Street July 19, 2012.

“For unknown reasons, Calvarese approached [the victim] and got into his face in an aggressive manner,” then “made several rude and unwarranted comments. … Calvarese loudly identified himself as a San Francisco Sheriff’s Department officer and told [the victim] that he was going to see him in jail.”

Eventually, Calvarese “sucker punched” the other man “in the back of the head,” and the man fell, the court filing says. The victim “did not attempt to defend himself and curled up on the floor in fear as onlookers restrained Calvarese.”

The man claims he was “held against his will until police arrived,” and when they got there, officers also “detained” him until two witnesses told police he’d done “nothing wrong.”

The account differs from details offered in 2012 shortly after Calvarese’s arrest. At that time, Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said that the victim had “pushed and punched back.”

In the federal complaint, the victim – who was himself charged in a separate domestic violence case – said Calvarese had denied knowing him outside the gym, but he “provided evidence of his prior sexual relationship with Calvarese by showing [police] text messages and photos exchanged between the two men.”

The victim claims he “was bombarded with media attention,” and he “suffered a total loss of privacy and was forced to relocate.” He’s also “suffered extreme emotional distress due to the assault at the gym and the unwanted media attention that followed this high profile incident.”

In the court documents, the man says that sheriff’s officials “have a history of using violence, intimidation, and false imprisonment against innocent people to carry out unlawful schemes and motives.”

As evidence, he pointed to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s own domestic violence case. In March 2012, Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment that stemmed from an incident in which he bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez. Lopez disputed the charges.

The county’s “failure to discipline or retrain any of the involved officers is evidence of an official policy, entrenched culture, and posture of deliberate indifference toward protecting citizens’ rights …,” Calvarese’s victim says in his federal complaint.

The victim added Mirkarimi and other officials “knew and/or reasonably should have known” about Calvarese’s “repeated acts of misconduct,” and they “sought to cover up, and/or tacitly authorized” Calvarese’s misconduct. The victim didn’t provide details of any of Calvarese’s alleged misconduct other than the incident at the gym.

During the original case, Calvarese and the victim both declined the B.A.R.’s repeated interview requests, and neither could be reached for comment for this story.

In December 2012, the victim himself was charged in San Francisco Superior Court with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence-related battery, criminal threats, and vandalism after he allegedly threw a vase at another man, threatened him, kicked him, and punched a hole in a wall.

In a plea deal reached this past June, he pleaded guilty to vandalism. His sentence included three years of probation and 50 hours of anger management.

About five months after Calvarese agreed to his plea bargain, he was sent to rehab after experiencing unspecified medical issues and skipping several of the classes he’d been ordered to attend.

Officials weren’t able to say much today (Friday, December 12) about the lawsuit settlement the supervisors voted on Tuesday.

Mark Nicco, an attorney for the sheriff’s office, said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of the case, but he said Calvarese retired in March. He couldn’t say whether he’d retired voluntarily. He also couldn’t comment on Calvarese’s pension.

In an email, Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said, “We recommended what we consider to be a prudent settlement from the standpoint of taxpayers’ interests. It avoids the risks of litigation, which are actually heightened in these kinds of federal civil rights cases. Unlike most civil suits, Section 1983 cases provide that the prevailing party is entitled to attorneys’ fees. So if a jury were to award even a small symbolic award to a plaintiff, the city could be on the hook for fees that could be an order of magnitude larger – possibly well into six-figures.”

John Burris, the attorney representing the victim in the federal lawsuit, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Despite the victim saying in the lawsuit being settled that the media attention had been “unwanted,” he’d given the B.A.R. his cellphone number, said on multiple occasions that he would eventually share his story, and exchanged text messages with a reporter who was seeking updates (in one of those messages, he called the reporter “Goldilocks.”) It’s also not clear whether any outlet other than the B.A.R. ever approached the victim directly. The victim’s Facebook page indicates he’s now the co-host of a TV show devoted to sex.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 12, 2014 @ 8:31 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized

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