For Dr. Amir Shervin, the Iranian Hostage Crisis Lives On

An Iranian physician trying to right a 29-year-old wrong has a scrape with Newark police and gets charged with assault by an aide to Senator Boxer.

A Bay Area man is about to return to court over actions related to a 29-year-old discrimination complaint stemming from the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Dr. Amir Shervin said what started as an effort to lobby US Senator Barbara Boxer ended up with him being charged with battery by a Boxer aide and then with Newark police beating him and his daughter during a December 2006 altercation. Shervin, 66, is due in a San Francisco court on the battery charge and in Fremont on resisting arrest charges.

Newark police dispute his account. They say they checked on Shervin because San Francisco police warned them that he might be suicidal. When they tried to talk to him, they say, he resisted their efforts and had to be detained, and daughter Natalie assaulted one of them.

The saga dates back to 1979, when the Iranian immigrant was denied a residency position in UCSF’s oral surgery department. Shervin said UCSF had already informed his embassy that he had been accepted for a position of residency in oral surgery, but then did a sudden about face. Amir said he never got a rational explanation for the denial and believes it was due to discrimination stemming from the climate of ill will against Iran at the time. He had written articles for an Iranian paper that were critical of the American and British governments’ actions during the time of the crisis.

“I was devastated,” he recalled of his denial. “It was fifteen years down the drain.” Shervin said UCSF Dean of Dentistry Benjamin Pavone told him he was just as puzzled.

In an effort to seek justice, Shervin has been mired in decades of litigation and activism ever since. He said he was referred to Senator Boxer’s office by the office of Senator Ted Kennedy, after the Iranian Christian Church of Sunnyvale sent Kennedy a letter about his case in 2005.

After several months of no reply from Boxer’s staff, Shervin said, he and two friends visited her San Francisco office in September 2006. According to Shervin, the first aide they spoke to said, “We can do nothing for you.” Shervin said he asked for this statement in writing.

A closed-circuit security video of Boxer’s waiting room, obtained by Shervin’s lawyer, shows Eric Vizcaino, Boxer’s director of constituent services, coming out to confront him. Vizcaino points his finger and appears very agitated. Shervin said Vizcaino also did nothing and said they had to leave. When Shervin asked for an explanation and a written statement, Vizcaino told them that if they didn’t leave immediately he would call the police. More words were exchanged, but the video shows Shervin and his associates leaving. Vizcaino makes great effort to close the door with both arms.

While the video shows a heated verbal exchange, it reveals no physical contact between Vizcaino and Shervin. Yet Vizcaino filed a battery charge with San Francisco police. Vizcaino has not returned calls on the matter and Natalie Ravitz, Boxer’s communications director, decline comment on the matter.

Sergeant Steve Mannina of the SFPD’s Public Affairs Unit said Shervin was charged with battery because “the victim alleges that he was spit on three times.” Mannina said he watched the video and “it’s plausible to believe there is a motion consistent with spitting” but that “it’s for a jury to decide. … Interpretation of videos is hard.” Shervin denies any spitting took place.

Three months later, on the morning of December 7, 2006, Shervin was contacted on the phone by SFPD Inspector Peter Walsh, who told him that he needed to appear in San Francisco the following morning regarding the battery charge filed by Vizcaino.

Shervin said he was stunned by the allegation and wondered why he had to appear on such short notice. He asked to be served with a notice of complaint, and then for time to contact a lawyer and take care of some personal affairs. Shervin said Walsh agreed to three days before hanging up.

About twenty minutes later, police appeared at the door of the friend’s home in Newark where Amir and his sixteen-year-old daughter Natalie were staying. Accounts vary as to what happened next. Amir said he tried to greet the Newark police by saying “Good morning officers, Merry Christmas,” and was then immediately taken down. He said one officer sat on his chest and pressed a baton to his neck while another kneed him in the groin and abdomen. According to Amir and eyewitness Hoshang Bastan, the friend they were staying with, police entered the home in a forcible and aggravated manner without permission or a warrant.

Natalie said she was aghast at seeing police beat her father and yelled, “Leave my father alone!” She said they responded by beating and groping her. “A 250-pound cop was sitting on my back,” said the ninety-pound girl, now eighteen. “They took my dad out first, calling me a brat, then put us in separate cars and took us to the station.” She said paramedics were called because of the back pain she experienced from the incident. Natalie was charged with assault and battery on a police officer. Her case, originally filed in San Leandro, was transferred to Marin County, where the Shervins now live. The charge against Natalie was dismissed after a year of court appearances.

“We have suffered tremendously because of this,” Amir said. He noted that Natalie suffered an emotional breakdown from the incident and said the two of them have had to appear in courts in Fremont, San Leandro, San Francisco, and San Rafael more than thirty times, with legal proceedings still ongoing.

But Newark police have a very different version of the incident. Lieutenant Jim Leal said his department was contacted by Walsh and informed that Shervin had threatened to set himself on fire or harm himself. Leal said Walsh asked the Newark PD to conduct a wellness check, while also serving him his San Francisco warrant. Leal said his agency’s file on the incident indicates that Shervin refused a request to talk and attempted to walk away from police. Only then, Leal said, did the officers move to detain him after “lots of pulling and struggling.”

“It’s the daughter who comes out and sees dad, and jumps on one of the officers,” Leal added.

Shervin adamantly denies that he threatened to harm himself or resisted officers in any way. “Hook us all up to a polygraph detector and let us see who lies,” he said.

Shortly after the arrest, he said, he and Natalie visited Newark’s mayor to complain and that Newark Police Chief Ray Samuels appeared and apologized for the incident. Shervin said Samuels took him into his office and said he would investigate the incident and reprimand those involved. Shervin said Samuels even summoned the officers involved into the office and had each of them shake hands with him and apologize. But the next day, Shervin received court notices saying that he was being charged with resisting arrest, on top of the battery charge filed by Vizcaino. Leal of Newark police said no one there has any knowledge of such apologies.

The resisting arrest charge is scheduled to be heard in Fremont Superior Court later this month. The San Francisco battery case is currently set to go to trial sometime in May. He has filed a counter-suit against the Newark and San Francisco police departments for a variety of charges including assault, battery and use of excessive force; false accusation and arrest; defamation and obstruction of justice; and conspiracy to target, invade, and terrorize him and his family.


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