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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Fajita Justice

Aired July 7, 2003 - 19:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Fajita gate. A fight over a fajita. Earlier I said burrito. I misspoke. It was a fajita. Wounded up shaking the entire structure of San Francisco's city government. We're not kidding.
It started last November with a late night scuffle between three San Francisco police officers and two civilians over said fajita. It led to a grand jury indicting the top level of leadership in the police department, and then things got even stranger. CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin has written up the mess in "The New Yorker." He's now with us to talk about fajita justice. Thanks for being with us. This is a fascinating thing. Basically, what happened?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, last November, 2:30 in the morning, three cops are drinking outside a bar. Two people are leaving another bar. They walk by. The two people are carrying said fajitas. The cops say, give us your food. They say no. Anyway, big brawl. The two individuals with the fajita are beaten up.

The three cops are detained that night, but the question at the heart of fajita-gate as it is known in San Francisco is whether the rest of the police department sort of rallied behind those three cops and covered up their crime.

COOPER: Hence fajita-gate. But what makes this case so odd is that the DA was actually not really kind of working with the police, he was working against the police.

TOOBIN: See that -- so much of this story is only in San Francisco. And that starts with the district attorney, Terrence Hallinan. Terrence Hallinan's nickname is KO, because he's gotten in so many fights as a kid, he was arrested so many times that he got that nickname.

COOPER: Physical fights.

TOOBIN: Physical fights. It took years for him to get admitted to the bar. Only in San Francisco could a guy get elected DA who had no experience as a prosecutor, but lots of experience as a defendant.

Anyway, so Hallinan went after this, charging that it was a Watergate style cover-up. And he was not happy with the police investigation. He took it before a grand jury, and then in February, he indicted -- the grand jury indicted the police chief, Earl Sanders, and all of his top deputies, virtually the entire leadership of the San Francisco Police Department indicted in a single day. COOPER: And you're saying that politically this was good for the DA.

TOOBIN: Again, only in San Francisco. In San Francisco, the electorate is so liberal that hostility to the police generally plays pretty well. Hallinan is up for reelection in November. We'll see whether he actually benefits politically from this. But, yes, a lot of people think by picking a fight with the cops as he has picked several, that he is actually helping himself politically.

COOPER: And when all is said and done and the fajita was unraveled, and it grew cold, a lot of the charges ended up being dropped.

TOOBIN: That makes the story even more preposterous. When the storm happened, in February, when everybody was indicted, Hallinan went and said -- he read (ph) the grand jury and said, you know, there is no case here against Sanders and his top deputies. So he threw out those two cases on his own. The other top officials went to court and said, there is no case against us. The judge agreed. Those cases were thrown out too. So it was really a fiasco from the law enforcement perspective. And now the three original cops, the pursuers of the famous fajitas...

COOPER: The ones who allegedly the fajitas first of all.

TOOBIN: Right, the bar fight. They're awaiting trial, and we'll see what happens with them.

COOPER: Unbelievable. How did you hear about this case?

TOOBIN: Well, it's gotten a lot of attention out in San Francisco. But it is, you know, irresistible.

COOPER: Only in San Francisco.

TOOBIN: Yes, indeed.

COOPER: It is in the new issue of "The New Yorker" on the stands. Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

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