Herrera files 28 civil lawsuits to keep known drug dealers out of the Tenderloin

Innovative step seeks court orders prohibiting 28 active drug dealers from preying on residents in historic neighborhood at the center of SF’s opioid crisis

City Attorney Dennis Herrera

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 24, 2020) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced today that he has sued 28 known drug dealers, filing for civil injunctions to prevent them from coming into the Tenderloin. The drug dealers do not live in the Tenderloin, but instead travel from around the Bay Area to sell deadly drugs there. The cases are designed to help stop the brazen open-air drug dealing that has plagued this historic neighborhood at the center of the City’s opioid crisis.

The injunctions are carefully tailored to simultaneously safeguard a defendant’s due process rights while targeting with precision the problem of drug dealers coming from outside the area to victimize Tenderloin residents, both housed and unhoused.

The move comes as San Francisco saw a 70% spike in overdose deaths in 2019, when 441 people died, an average of more than one a day. Of those, 239 were fentanyl overdoses, more than double the number of fentanyl deaths from the year before. The Tenderloin has the highest overdose mortality rate of any neighborhood in the City. Already this year, 81 people have died of drug overdoses in the Tenderloin alone.

Each of the 28 lawsuits name a specific individual defendant and include ample evidence of his or her repeated drug dealing in the Tenderloin.

The injunctions sought would prohibit the named defendants from entering a roughly 50 square block area of the Tenderloin and part of the adjacent South of Market neighborhood. Violations of the injunctions will have civil and criminal consequences. Violations carry civil penalties of up to $6,000 per violation. Violations can also be pursued as misdemeanors and subject defendants to immediate arrest. An arrest would lead to a search and the confiscation of any illegal drugs or other contraband an enjoined person has in his or her possession.

“These actions are aimed solely at criminals who are coming from around the Bay Area to prey on the people of the Tenderloin. It’s time for that to stop,” Herrera said. “We know who these predators are, and we will not allow them to victimize Tenderloin residents with impunity. Dealers take note: If you come to the Tenderloin, you will be arrested and your drugs will be confiscated.”

“I want to be clear that this is not a silver bullet,” Herrera said. “More needs to be done, including more drug treatment options, expanded mental health help, and a concerted focus on major narcotics suppliers. But these injunctions will give law enforcement one more tool to help keep Tenderloin residents safe. We need to do everything we can to stop this neighborhood from being used as the Bay Area’s open-air drug market. It’s time for a new approach. Our goal here is to keep these dealers and the drugs they carry out of the Tenderloin. The kids, the parents, the seniors, the workers, the business owners of this neighborhood have suffered too much at the hands of these dealers. Enough is enough.”

“The open-air drug dealing we see on the streets of the Tenderloin is simply unacceptable,” Mayor London Breed said. “I want to thank City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his team for stepping up to find a new approach to confront this challenging problem. While we absolutely need to continue to invest in treatment and push for innovative public health solutions like safe injection sites to help those struggling with addiction, we also need to stop the rampant drug dealing that Tenderloin residents see outside their windows every single day. This neighborhood deserves better, and our City needs to do better.”

“San Francisco police officers work tirelessly to make our neighborhoods safe. This is especially true in the Tenderloin District where a recent 90-day narcotics operation resulted in the arrest of 267 persons,” said San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. “The injunctions announced today by City Attorney Dennis Herrera target drug dealers with multiple arrests for sales or possession for sale of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl. Most of these individuals who prey on vulnerable members of our community live outside of San Francisco. By working together with our partners in the City Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement partners, we can help make our city a safer place to live, work and recreate.”

“I support solutions that will keep individuals out of the Tenderloin who come here every day to sell deadly drugs like fentanyl that are killing people more than ever,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents District 6, which includes the Tenderloin. “We need new solutions, urgently, as well as a broader comprehensive strategy to address this drug epidemic. We have to challenge the status quo, which has been a terrible failure with devastating, deadly impacts on this neighborhood.”

“There is no magic wand that will instantly fix the drug woes in the Tenderloin,” District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin said. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try new things that can help. As we invest further in drug treatment and housing, we can’t turn a blind eye to the drug dealers coming here to prey on the people of this neighborhood. I applaud City Attorney Herrera for taking a creative approach to help protect the residents of the Tenderloin.”

Precision Focused

The injunctions focus on predatory, repeat dealers selling the most dangerous drugs, including those leading to the most overdose deaths. This is the criteria used to determine defendants:

  • He or she was arrested at least twice for either drug sales or possession of drugs for the purpose of sales in the Tenderloin in the past year and a half. One of those arrests must have been in the last nine months. Both of the arrests must have led to either criminal charges or a motion to revoke probation.
  • The drugs involved were fentanyl, heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine.
  • The defendant is not a Tenderloin resident.

Due Process Protections

The injunctions sought are court orders against distinct individuals because of specific illegal conduct that he or she was charged with committing. Demographics or group affiliation were not considered when putting together these lawsuits.

The injunctions may only issue once a defendant has been served with notice about the proposed injunction, has been given the opportunity to present their defense in court at a hearing, and the court finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant the injunction. In other words, an injunction is issued if the need for it is proven in a court of law.

Additionally, enjoined individuals at any time may ask the City Attorney’s Office to support modifying or ending their injunction if their circumstances have changed and an adjustment is warranted.

Overdose Crisis

The Tenderloin is the epicenter of the opioid crisis in San Francisco. Between 2011 and 2015, drug overdose was the leading cause of death in the Tenderloin. By comparison, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the City as a whole, and drug overdoses did not even fall within the top five leading causes of death for residents outside the Tenderloin.

In 2019, 441 people died from drug overdoses in San Francisco—a rate of more than one per day. There were 239 deaths from fentanyl overdose alone in San Francisco last year. This was more than double the number of fentanyl overdose deaths in 2018. The Tenderloin has the highest overdose mortality rate of any neighborhood in the City.

In January 2020, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution declaring drug overdose deaths a public health crisis. In that resolution, which called for a public health plan, supervisors requested a plan for “stopping the flow of deadly drugs into San Francisco.”

“These injunctions are designed to help do exactly that,” Herrera said. “This won’t solve the problem by itself, but it’s a step worth taking. Stopping the people carrying the drugs from entering the neighborhood where the drugs are sold the most just makes sense. I want to thank the hardworking men and women of the San Francisco Police Department. Their diligence laid the groundwork for us to put together this creative approach to public safety. I also want to thank the dedicated team in my office that has worked hard to come up with an innovative way to deal thoughtfully, appropriately and effectively with a long-standing problem.”

Tenderloin Besieged

Of the 28 people the City Attorney’s Office is seeking an injunction against, 27 live outside of San Francisco, and the sole San Franciscan is based in the Sunset District. The dealers come to the Tenderloin from Oakland, Hayward, San Jose, Suisun City and elsewhere.

The map displays the number of arrests for drug dealing at each location between June 1, 2019 and June 19, 2020. The red line outlines the 50-block area the injunctions seek to block defendants from entering.

From June 1, 2019 through June 19, 2020, over 580 arrests were made in the Tenderloin area for drug sales and for possession of drugs for the purpose of sales. These arrests were primarily for dealing fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine.

The Tenderloin is a richly diverse neighborhood with the highest concentration of children in the City. Official census figures show that 2,256 children live in the Tenderloin. The density of children in the Tenderloin is about three times higher than the rest of the City.

About the City Attorney’s Office

The City Attorney’s Office handles all civil legal matters involving the City and County of San Francisco, including civil prosecution of consumer protection, unlawful business, and public nuisance cases. Criminal prosecutions are handled by the District Attorney’s Office.

An example civil complaint can be found here.