Fajitagate was a series of legal and political incidents in San Francisco that began with a street fight on November 20, 2002. The fight involved three off-duty San Francisco Police officers, Alex Fagan Jr., David Lee, and Matt Tonsing, and two San Francisco residents, Adam Snyder and Jade Santoro.
As reported the next day, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Snyder and Santoro reported that they were leaving the bar when they were approached by three men who demanded a bag of takeout food, the eponymous fajitas, which Snyder was taking home. Snyder refused, Santoro told them to leave him alone, words were exchanged, a fight broke out, a beer bottle or some other blunt object was thrown, and minor injuries were suffered by Snyder and serious injuries by Santoro.
Snyder called 9-1-1 on his cellphone and reported that Santoro was being beaten. He then identified as attackers three men in a white pickup truck, which drove past the scene to responding officers. The pickup was stopped, and the three off-duty officers were identified, questioned, and let go. No arrests were made that night.
The scandal subsequently expanded and would take until 2005 to reach a final criminal resolution. Accused police officer Alex Fagan, Jr. was the son of San Francisco Police Department Assistant Chief (later Chief) Alex Fagan. It was subsequently alleged by then San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan that the elder Fagan, Chief Prentice E. Sanders, and nine other officers were involved in a coverup of the initial criminal acts of the three off-duty officers. Sanders and nine other senior officers were indicted by Hallinan and arrested on February 28, 2003, for the crime of obstruction of justice. Sanders took a leave of absence due to the charges, and Alex Fagan, Sr., the next most senior officer, automatically became the acting chief. Acting Chief Alex Fagan Sr., in turn, resigned in early 2004 and was replaced by Heather Fong, on Jan 22, 2004.
The court cases against senior police staff continued through 2003. Hallinan dropped charges against Chief Sanders on March 11, as he was unable to prove a conspiracy had existed. Charges were dropped against almost all the other defendants on April 4, 2003. A key ruling in the case was that under California law, obstruction of justice required that there be an active conspiracy of persons who agreed to subvert justice, not merely an individual or set of individuals acting on their own. Hallinan originally claimed such a conspiracy, but phone and office logs established that there could not have been any significant collusion. Hallinan publicly called for the law to be amended to allow individuals to be charged for independent actions.
Later in 2003 and throughout 2004, most of the senior officers, including 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 took early retirement, which he claimed was from the stress from the investigation.
Criminal court cases in the original beating against Fagan and Lee were resolved in 2004 and 2005. Lee was found not guilty on November 21, 2004, and Fagan was found not guilty on March 28, 2005.
Many officers were charged by the Office of Citizen Complaints for misconduct in the incident. In March 2007, Inspector Paul Falconer and Lieutenant Henry Para successfully challenged their misconduct charges,in a closed hearing of the Police Commission. They were exonerated of all the charges brought against them. In March 2007, many of the officers charged by the Office of Citizen Complaints made deals, with the San Francisco Police Commission, for time off. At the end of the hearing, one police commissioner stated that it appeared that none of the officers charged had done anything wrong.
On June 12, 2006, a civil jury found Fagan and Tonsing liable for damages suffered in the beating and awarded plaintiff Jade Santoro $36,500 in damages. The jury found for Tonsing but against Fagan and awarded Snyder $9,500. The jury completely exonerated Lee, and Snyder was ordered to pay both Lee's and Tonsing's defense costs.
A federal court dismissed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of San Francisco in 2006, a decision upheld on appeal in July 2008, on the basis that the plaintiffs had not shown at trial that any police policy or practice was to blame for the officers' conduct.