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Former SFDA investigator files ethics complaint against Chesa Boudin's managing attorney Lateef Gray and his wife, Police Commission vice president Cindy Elias
Jeffrey Pailet accuses the couple of sharing information about him and an underlying investigation in which Lateef Gray had a financial interest
Jeffrey Pailet, the former lieutenant district attorney investigator with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, has filed an ethics complaint against Cindy Elias, the vice president of the San Francisco Police Commission, and her husband Lateef Gray, the managing attorney of the Independent Investigations Bureau (IIB) at the San Francisco District Attorney's Office. The complaint states that the couple obtained information about Pailet and an underlying investigation in which Gray had a financial interest, something GBTB Media’s Lou Barberini wrote about in February.
In November of 2021, Pailet filed a lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court claiming he was fired in 2020 by District Attorney Chesa Boudin and his then chief of staff, David Campos, in retaliation for exposing alleged wrongdoing during an investigation of the shooting of Sean Moore by San Francisco Police officer Kenneth Cha. During the 2017 incident, which was caught on police body camera, Cha and his partner Colin Patino encounter an aggressive Moore at his home after receiving a call regarding Moore violating a restraining order. In the footage, Moore repeatedly uses profanities and at one point spits on Officer Cha, saying, “Bitch, get the fuck off my stairs!” After Moore kicks Patino, a struggle ensues and Moore punches Cha in the face, breaking his nose and knocking him down a flight of stairs. Moore then attacks Patino again, and when pepper spray doesn’t stop Moore’s attacks, Cha shoots him with a service revolver. The officers were initially cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting and the case closed under former D.A. George Gascón; however, Boudin reopened the case after he took office in 2020.
Pailet was a member of the IIB, charged with ensuring investigations and prosecutions are done in compliance with state and federal law. Pailet claimed the D.A. investigators withheld key details when writing search warrants for personal cell phone records for Cha and several other officers during the reopened investigation. The wrongful termination lawsuit names Boudin, Campos, and two assistant district attorneys, Dana Drusinsky and Stephanie Lacambra.
In the ethic complaint, filed April 5, Pailet points to a February 9, 2022, public meeting where Cindy Elias, “in her capacity as Vice President of the Police Commission” said that he was merely a "disgruntled employee" rather than a protected whistleblower in relation to his termination from the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.
Pailet was hired in May, 2017, and subsequently promoted to lieutenant two months later. Boudin hired Lateef Gray in February 2020 and in June of that year promoted him to managing attorney of the IIB, where he heads up a team of former public defenders and former officers who investigate police shootings.
Prior to Gray’s position with the D.A.’s office, he worked as a civil attorney in the Law Offices of John Burris, where many of the cases involve police misconduct and officer-involved shootings that are also investigated by the IIB. While Gray was employed by Burris, he represented the family of Moore, who brought a civil wrongful death action against the San Francisco Police Department, Officer Cha, his partner Officer Patino, and the City and County of San Francisco. The city agreed to a $3.25 million settlement after Moore died in January 2020 while serving time in prison for an unrelated crime. The autopsy listed “acute intestinal obstruction” and “severe abdominal adhesions” due to “remote gunshot wound to abdomen” from the 2017 shooting as the cause of death for the 46-year-old Moore, along with other “significant conditions” including “hypertensive cardiovascular disease; obesity; slight coronary atherosclerosis; diabetes mellitus; schizophrenia; and chronic substance abuse.”
In Pailet’s ethics complaint, he says that when Boudin hired Gray, the civil action was still ongoing while a criminal investigation was occurring within the D.A.’s office. Due to Gray’s financial interest in the Moore matter, he was deemed to have a conflict of interest which required Gray be excluded from all information regarding the Cha investigation, internally referred to as “walled off.” But Pailet believes Gray continued to “improperly receive information” on the matter.
In October of 2020, Pailet says an investigator he assisted, now known to be Magen Hayashi, brought to his attention concerns regarding instructions given by assistant district attorneys Drusinsky and Lacambra. After evaluating Hayashi’s concerns, Pailet found they were justified and that Drusinsky and Lacambra were “attempting to present false and misleading evidence via warrant affidavits.” Paleit attempted to “stop this improper and unethical activity.” After a period of time, he says he came to believe he was witnessing prosecutorial misconduct, including “intentional attempts by the two San Francisco Assistant District Attorneys to misrepresent facts to the San Francisco Superior Court during the investigation” of the Cha case. Specifically, he believed Drusinsky and Lacambra were “attempting to assert false and misleading facts and suborn perjury through the investigator that was assigned to this matter.”
According to Paleit’s lawsuit, Drusinsky and Lacambra asked Hayashi to prepare a search warrant on the officers’ cellphones and continued to provide Hayashi with updated, heavily edited, and evolving versions of the search warrant, lacking probable cause and omitting material exculpatory facts such as Moore’s physical attacks on Cha and Patino.
Paleit attempted to “halt this improper and potentially illegal activity” as a whistleblower within the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, upon which he was “threatened by the two Assistant District Attorneys” that if he continued to object to their actions there would be repercussions that would negatively impact his employment. On November 6, 2020, Paleit was notified he had been terminated. Despite years of service to the department, Boudin and Campos listened to two new hires with zero prosecutorial or investigative experience.
Drusinksy, hired in 2020 by Boudin from the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, had served as his senior campaign manager during the 2019 election. Lacambra, another public defender, was just as inexperienced. Drusinsky and Lacambra were never officially assigned to IIB; however, Paleit’s lawsuit alleges their substantial involvement while acting as direct conduits to Boudin.
Regarding Elias calling him a “disgruntled employee,” Paleit points out that he was making the claims prior to his termination. “It is my opinion that Cindy Elias is intentionally and maliciously making these false statements about my status as a ‘disgruntled employee’ to malign my character and reputation,” Paleit says in the complaint. “Cindy Elias is married to Lateef Gray … It is my belief that she must have been told of this matter by her husband...”
Since Gray was supposed to be “walled off” from the case and any information about it, Paleit says “the same principles should apply to his spouse, Elias,” yet it appears the couple had obtained information about his termination, discussed the situation, and did so improperly and unethically. Paleit concludes by saying he believes his ethics complaint concerning Elias and Gray “must be investigated and that an outside agency must do the investigation.”
When Boudin hired Gray, clearly he was aware that he (and his wife, Elias) stood to benefit financially from Gray’s representation of the Moore family. To then assign him to manage the very unit that would be investigating the shooting of Moore in the criminal prosecution of Officer Cha was either extremely naive or just plain arrogant on Boudin’s behalf. Gray’s wife serving as the vice president of the Police Commission while Gray and the Burris firm stood to benefit from the Moore family’s civil suit only adds to the conflicts of interest. Burris said Gray wouldn’t “work on San Francisco cases period, nor will he be consulted on San Francisco cases” — yet documents show Gray was still representing the Moore family after Burris made those comments. (Gray is also now a coworker of Burris’s daughter, Courtney Burris, who is an assistant district attorney under Boudin.) Not only should the San Francisco Ethics Commission assign an outside agency to investigate the District Attorney’s latest quagmire, it seems Gray should step down from his position to prevent inevitable future conflicts.