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Judge sets Jan. hearing date for S.F. cop charged with domestic abuse

Michael Coffino Berkeley Daily Planet Corresponden
Saturday October 14, 2000

A San Francisco police officer charged with assaulting his girlfriend in her West Berkeley apartment and binding her hands with a nylon strap appeared in Berkeley Superior Court Friday to face charges of misdemeanor battery and false imprisonment. 

Judge Jennie Rhine postponed a hearing on a restraining order in the case over objections by the alleged victim’s attorney until after the criminal trial against the officer, which she set for January 16. The preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. 

Rhine ruled that a temporary restraining order against defendant James McKeever, a 52-year-old San Francisco motorcycle officer, will remain in effect until February. The victim in the case also appeared in court yesterday. The Daily Planet is honoring her wish not to be named. 

“We wanted to get (the restraining order) over with so it’s not being prolonged,” said Carmia Caesar, a staff attorney with the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland. “This is the second time it’s been delayed,” she said. 

McKeever, a 26-year veteran of the San Francisco police force, was arrested in the early morning hours of Aug. 7 after officers arrived at an apartment on Seventh Street in West Berkeley and found the victim with a broken tooth and her hands bound behind her back. The 36-year-old woman told police that McKeever hit her in the face and pinned her on the ground before tying her hands together. 

But according to a police report, McKeever claimed the woman started the altercation by slapping and kicking him and that he had merely tried to shield himself from her blows. McKeever is 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds. The woman is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. 

The pair told police they have had an on-and-off relationship for five years. The woman, who had not been publically named until Friday’s court date, has lived in Berkeley for five years. She told the Daily Planet she is active in community affairs, having served on city task forces and boards. McKeever is married and lives in San Francisco’s Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood with his four-year-old daughter and 13-year-old stepdaughter. 

Michael Cardoza, a San Francisco lawyer representing McKeever, said yesterday that there was no basis for the charges. 

“The history of the alleged victim in this case is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “There will be two sides to this story and it will come out at trial that this victim is not everything she’s portrayed to be,” he said. 

Since his arrest in the Berkeley incident, meanwhile, McKeever was allegedly involved in a separate attack at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport.  

According to a report by airport authorities, McKeever struck his 13-year-old step daughter twice in the face while waiting to board a Delta Air Lines flight to San Francisco on Aug. 24. 

McKeever was held overnight in the Tarrant County jail and released the next day on $500 bond. He has been charged with felony assault on a child and is scheduled to appear for preliminary hearing in Ft. Worth on Oct. 27. Carole Kerr, McKeever’s attorney in the Texas case, did not return a call seeking comment by press time. 

But Cardoza said the Texas incident had also been overplayed. 

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “He barely touched her. There are no marks, there are no visible signs of anything. And the girl says ‘he never hit me,’ so I mean it’s absolutely horse crap,” he said. 

According to Cardoza, McKeever gently disciplined the teenager for acting up and the only witness was too far away to see what really happened. 

“What I find really strange is here you have some really good parents and people are saying it’s against the law to discipline your children corporally, and its not against the law,” he said. “You can use reasonable force, and certainly he barely touched his daughter, just tapped her on the mouth.” 

The Texas incident only came to light locally after the girl told her biological father, Keith Washington, about the event some weeks afterward in San Francisco. 

“She called me out of the clear blue sky and asked me to meet her at the school,” Washington told the Daily Planet in a telephone interview Wednesday. “She started crying,” he said. “She told me her and her sister got into some little disagreement and he (McKeever) blamed her and struck her.” 

Washington is a former maintenance worker with the San Francisco Housing Authority and is currently on disability. He has no custody or visitation rights but says he is close with the child, a ninth grader in San Francisco. 

Washington says he called Dallas/Ft. Worth authorities, who faxed him a copy of the police report. 

McKeever was suspended from the San Francisco police force on Sept. 1 and ordered to surrender his badge, police identification card and handgun. But one week later he was reassigned to a desk job. According to a police department spokesman, however, McKeever’s weapon has not been returned and he has no contact with the public. 

At Friday’s court hearing the alleged victim in the Berkeley incident hoped to have a three-year restraining order entered against McKeever. But Judge Rhine ruled that McKeever’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself would be infringed if he was forced to participate in a restraining order hearing before the criminal trial. 

McKeever, wearing a black suede jacket and a taciturn expression, sat in the rear of the courtroom with his wife. He declined to answer questions on the advice of his attorney. 

The alleged victim, meanwhile, huddled in the hallway after the hearing with her attorney, an advocate from a local battered women’s group, and assistant district attorney Ursula Dixon. 

Articulate and effusive, the woman was eager to talk about the case in an interview Wednesday with the Daily Planet, but also said she is ambivalent about McKeever’s arrest. She said that McKeever co-signed on a loan that allowed her to purchase her home and in 1998 gave her $10,000 cash toward the purchase of a new Honda Civic automobile. She says she is also the beneficiary of a life insurance policy taken out on McKeever. 

“That’s what makes it hard because I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said. “I know that this person has feelings for me.” 

She said McKeever had never been violent before. “I thought I knew this person, but I guess I didn’t,” she said. “I really thought this man was going to kill me.” 

But attorney Michael Cardoza, who specializes in representing police officers charged with crimes, sees McKeever’s prosecution differently. 

“We are now in a society where this is the crime du jour,” he said. “You have every woman’s rights group jumping into this now and they blindly believe whatever a woman tells them,” he said. 

“What’s wrong that I see, especially here in Alameda County, is they’re federally granted and they have certain stat(istics)s they have to keep up, and if they don’t keep them up they lose their federal money, so we’ve got to prosecute everybody. So any woman can come through the door and say, ‘well he did this.’” 

Cardoza says the fact that McKeever is a policeman only intensified feelings in the case. 

“That’s the button to push for everybody, where everybody gets even tougher,” he said. “They’re actually tougher on police officers and anybody in that type of authoritarian capacity,” he said. “So this is absolutely insane what’s going on here,” he said, “It’s really sad.”