Notorious SF: Cool Dick Hongisto

San Francisco Bay Times
3410 19th Street
San Francisco, CA  94110
Publisher: Kim Corsaro
Hongisto photo: Rink
Peggy Sue photo: Shari Cohen
Design: Jose Dumas, Brendan Wood
Production: Tim Hixon, Andrea Kassof, 
Glenn Caley Bachman
When the May 7, 1992 edition of the Bay Times hit newsstands, Police Chief Richard Hongisto was, let's say, nonplused. (That's Hongisto's head on the body of Peggy Sue, an out front activist in the City during the late '80s and into the '90s.) Inside, an article by newsman Tim Kingston criticized Hongisto's handling of public reaction on the streets of San Francisco after the not guilty verdicts against police officers in the Rodney King beating trial in Los Angeles. Two thousand people were arrested in San Francisco where Mayor Frank Jordan declared a state of emergency and a curfew after looters struck downtown stores in the days after the King verdict. Hongisto, Jordan, and others decided to ban all public demonstration outright. When marchers gathered at 24th and Mission Streets on May 1, Hongisto ordered them dispersed. Hundreds of people were arrested in the confrontation.

Unfortunately, Hongisto had the papers confiscated. The top cop's officers Gary Delagnes and Tom Yuen rounded up about 2,000 copies (out of a print run of 40,000) from news racks around town in the wee hours of the morning. A week later, Hongisto was fired. He appeared on television demanding that he be reinstated. "I don't wanna be supervisor. I don't want to be assessor. I want to be the chief of police!" Hongisto declared, referring to two positions he'd previously held in City government. Hongisto denied responsibility and said he did not order the seizure of the papers. He claimed he told one of the officers only that he didn't want other cops to see the article. The mayor, the police commission, and eventually a court of law saw things differently. In September, 1994 the jury in a case brought by Bay Times publisher Kim Corsaro ruled that Hongisto had indeed violated the constitutional rights of the newspaper. The ruling upheld free speech and freedom of the press, and affirmed that the press must be able to report on the police without fear of police reprisal.

A separate court decision stemming from the series of events upheld the public's right to demonstrate without fear of arrest. In Collins v. Jordan et al., Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals authored an opinion that stated Hongisto was not entitled to qualified immunity when he banned all protests.

Copyright 2001 Hank Donat home