Rotea Gilford

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Rotea James Gilford

(1927-11-20)November 20, 1927
Willis, Texas, USA
DiedMarch 14, 1998(1998-03-14) (aged 70)
San Francisco
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materCity College of San Francisco
  • Executive Director
  • Mayor's Criminal Justice Council
EmployerCity and County of San Francisco
Known for
  • First Black Police Inspector 1964
  • First Black Homicide Inspector, 1971
Term1960 - 1988
  • Patricia Quintal, m.1952
  • d.1973; Judith Chandler m. 1974
  • Rotea Love Gilford (father)
  • Viola Mae James (mother)

Rotea James (“Gil”) Gilford (November 20, 1927 - March 14, 1998) was a public servant for the City and County of San Francisco in many capacities beginning in 1960 and continuing until his death. In spite of tremendous odds against him, he quickly distinguished himself within the San Francisco Police Department, rising from patrolman to become their first African-American police Inspector and later to the elite Homicide Detail. A political insider to four administrations, he lead the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Council, moving it to City Hall under Mayors George Moscone and Dianne Feinstein. Gilford was instrumental in stabilizing small and large factions across the city as events came close to tearing it asunder. Gilford was also a civil rights activist and a founding member of San Francisco’s Officers for Justice (OFJ), an organization formed to represent the interests of minority police officers. Gilford was known for overcoming seemingly insurmountable barriers, achieving unprecedented results, and keeping the door open for others to follow.

Early life

Rotea Gilford was born in Willis, Texas in 1927.[1] His parents brought him to San Francisco in the 1930’s where they lived in "The Fillmore" district. Rotea attended San Francisco Polytechnic High School. Having already attained the age of 18 the previous Fall, he enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 6, 1946. His government enlistment details note that he was part of the "Enlistment for the Panama Canal Department."[2]

Early adulthood

After the Army Rotea enrolled at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) where he played varsity football.[3] 1948 was a historical year for CCSF’s team.[4] Julia Bergman, Valerie Sherer, and Austin White, in their book entitled “City College of San Francisco” on the history of the college, also document the successes of this team. “ . . . they played an undefeated season with 12 wins and no losses, (allowing their opponents only 55 points), and winning the Northern California Junior College Conference." [5]

In addition to Gilford, the 1948 CCSF Ram’s lineup included Ollie Matson, and Burl Toler. A fellow CCSF teammate, Walt Jourdan[3] writes about Rotea using his nickname “Jughead”, "On offense, Jughead and I rotated at right halfback, and I backed up Ollie at left . . . I started on defense at left corner opposite Jughead. Jughead and I were fast enough to play tight bump and run, running all the way downfield backwards. If anything got past us, which was rare, Ollie was there as Safety to clean it up."[3] This was a talent "Jughead" would find helpful a little later in life as well.[6]

After City College, Rotea and Walt Jourdan transferred to San Francisco State College. Walt mentions that despite success as CCSF National Champions, Rotea was removed from classes there because he didn’t graduate from High School. Ollie Matson and Burl Toler went on to the University of San Francisco (USF). Matson was drafted by the National Football League’s (NFL) Chicago Cardinals where he had a distinguished career and in 1958 was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for nine other players. Matson was inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 1972. An injury kept Burl Toler from playing in the NFL, but he went on to become the NFL’s first African-American official, and a Police Commissioner in San Francisco.[3] Gilford, encouraged by city college counselors to apply for the many civil service jobs that were opening up at the time, became a toll-taker on the San Francisco Bay Bridge for a time, and his first law enforcement job was with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.[3][6]

San francisco police department

Note: In 1971 Inspector Rotea "Gil" Gilford chose Prentice E. "Earl" Sanders as his new partner in the Homicide detail. Earl would later become San Francisco’s Chief of Police and in retirement wrote a book with his co-author, Bennett Cohen, about the work he and Rotea did in the SFPD, called “The Zebra Murders: a season of killing, racial madness, and civil rights.” Another book, David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch” repeats much of what was in “Zebra” and adds other important details of history about the inner workings of City Hall during the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Both books are frequently referred to throughout.


Rotea wanted to become a policeman, but felt his chances were slim. In fact, the African-American experience on San Francisco's police force was indicative of the lack of black political power in the city. In 1950, only 5 black officers were on the force.[7] Yet, on July 1, 1960 Rotea was hired by the San Francisco Police Department.[8] His first beat was back in the Fillmore district where he spent his youth. As Sanders remembers, Gilford’s ability to give and get respect, as well as maintaining a broad smile, earned him the nickname "Officer Smiley." As Gilford revealed more of his personality and reliability the SFPD yielded their former internal rule against allowing minority officers to drive patrol cars, and assigned Radio/Patrol Car #4 to him, in 1962 - the first minority officer to gain that level of trust with the department[6].

Officer Gilford was known for walking the mixed race neighborhood, speaking with everyone and creating lasting connections that would follow him the rest of his life - "community policing" before that term became popular. Sanders recalls that he would chat with the teens but then ask them to "Give me my corner". It was his way to build relationships with them, but get them off street corners. His ability to give and get respect as well has his good sense of humor earned him the nickname "Officer Smiley".[6]

Early in his patrol career he came around the corner on Fillmore to find a criminal had just snatched an older woman's purse. The former football corner back gave foot pursuit quickly catching up to the thief, and then running backwards alongside him until he stopped running and handed Officer Smiley the lady's purse. Gilford then had the thief return the purse to the woman and apologize.[6]

Awards & Commendations

Gilford's quick successes were frequently honored with awards at Police Commission Meetings. The San Francisco Police Commissioner’s Media Relations office maintains “Meritorious Books” containing records of the commendations conferred upon an officer during his/her employment with the department. Volumes 1 through 7, detail at least ten commendations for brave actions taken by Rotea and other officers against criminals during their arrests. [8]

A 3rd Grade Meritorious Award, in October 1962, he saw three suspects wanted for theft. He followed them, forced their vehicle to stop, disarmed and arrested the suspects. A 3rd Grade Meritorious Award, less than two weeks later, when he helped capture a suspect for firing his handgun at another person. The suspect got away by car. The officers spotted the car, now parked, and kept it under surveillance until the suspect returned to it and was taken into custody.[8]

A First Grade Meritorious Award in 1963 (so rare that they are often awarded posthumously [6] was conferred upon him - “in the arrest of an armed man who was observed in a stolen automobile and suspected of being in the process of attempting to commit the robbery of a drug store. When the suspect saw the officers, he tried to escape in the stolen vehicle, but was overtaken by the officers. He then fled from the car and was grabbed by Gilford, who commanded him to halt and announced he was under arrest. The suspect shoved a revolver in the officer's abdomen and attempted to shoot him. The officer fired one shot at him, hitting him in the right hand, knocking the gun from his grasp. The man was then placed under arrest. During the chase, the officers fired a total of four shots in an effort to halt the man.[8]

A Second Grade Meritorious Award was earned In February 1964, when Officer Gilford responded with another officer to the scene of a shooting. Both entered the building of the incident to investigate. As they were going down a hallway, a man suddenly stepped from a bedroom and pressed a .32 caliber automatic against Officer Miller's left side, Officer Miller spun around quickly and grabbed the gun while at the same time Officer Gilford lunged forward and grappled with the suspect. After a struggle, the officers were able to disarm the man and take him into custody.[8]

Promotion to inspector

In September 1964, when fewer than nine black officers had ever been promoted within the SFPD, Chief Thomas J. Cahill promoted Rotea Gilford to the Inspector's Bureau; he would be the first African-American to carry the coveted gold badge. The San Francisco Examiner announced "First Negro on Inspector Staff".[9]

Rotea was assigned to the Robbery/Burglary Detail and teamed with veteran inspector Richard Miller. In the spring of 1966, they were trying to determine how a lot of loot from robberies in other jurisdictions was turning up in San Francisco. Looking for a way inside the operation, Gilford learned that an off-duty SFPD officer had recently opened a small furniture business in the Mission District. Gilford set up a sting operation using the officer’s business. The suspected leader of the fencing operation was called, "Mr. Big". An undercover officer made contact with Mr. Big's people and received calls and offers from many different sellers. Items offered for sale ranged from rifles, to office equipment, to musical instruments. Seeded with $700 of SFPD money, the undercover operation was so successful it quickly ran out of cash, forcing the undercover police officer to set appointments for the thieves to come back another day. At the appointed time, five thieves entered the store with loot to sell. The undercover officer closed his window blind, which was a signal to Inspector Gilford who then turned his flashlight on/off which signaled other officers in hiding. The operation resulted in the arrest of 22 suspects and collection of $30,000 (1966 value) in stolen merchandise as the participating officers descended on the store arresting all.[10]

In May 1968, he assisted in arresting a suspect who allegedly killed a police officer, and who had sworn to shoot any police trying to catch him. In July 1969 he was decorated for his investigation of a series of robberies of many locations. He identified three suspects who were arrested. The three were responsible for 42 robberies. In February 1971, he helped arrest a suspect who had held up a bar. In March 1971 he completed a 96 hour investigation resulting in the arrest of two suspects for several armed robberies including wounding a Patrol Special Officer.[8] As an inspector, Gilford continued earning decorations.

Promotion to Homicide Inspector

In early 1971, Police Chief Alfred J. Nelder promoted Inspector Gilford to the elite Homicide Detail, giving him his choice of partners, so long as he chose an African-American. Gilford chose Prentice Earl Sanders, formerly one of the teens from the Fillmore who had joined the SFPD in 1964, and who had consistently impressed SFPD brass with his exceptional high test scores.[6]

Gilford and Sander's introduction to the homicide bureau was less than warm. On their first day, the new duo had to find a desk. Nothing had been setup for their arrival. Gilford found a rundown desk in an adjacent office and they moved it in. The two shared the one desk for their duration together.[6] Despite all of the accolades and acceptance Rotea had stacked up, the SFPD was still a historically white institution. Racial slurs and prejudices were rife, even in the academy. Sanders explains, "From . . . the minute a black officer entered the SFPD, the white Irish old-boys’ network ran the department with two sets of rules: White cops lived by one, but imposed another on black cops. The rules weren’t written; they were understood.” The best a black cop could hope for were fellow officers who looked to another's capability, rather than color. Fortunately there were a few such officers in the bureau, though they were not the norm.[6]

Inspector Gilford continued to be recognized for achievement, but now recognition was coming in other ways as well. Increasingly, local media sought out Gilford who became known, not for the showmanship of other inspectors, but for his willingness to speak to the press in a calm and forthright manner, supplying information that they had a right to know, and holding back what he knew couldn't be shared. The press trusted him (a video example follows the Zebra Murders below). [6]

Officers for justice

Despite an influx of African-Americans into the San Francisco Bay Area to work in the shipyards during WWII, San Francisco's 1950 census claims only a 5.6% “Negro” population - increasing to 10% by 1960.[11] In 1970, only 85 black officers (5%) had jobs in the full force of 1800 men.[7] Irish cops controlled the police force and meted out discrimination as a matter of course[7][6] - to black citizens as well as minority police officers. Recently, a 2016 a report by the Department of Justice, concluded that there continues to be significant racial bias in the SFPD treatment of African-Americans.[12] The San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) was a white controlled union offering no representation of minority concerns. Out of sheer frustration, in about 1968, Gilford and other minority officers decided to form their own union and called it “Officers for Justice” (OFJ), which was open to all police officers regardless of color. The white POA had all the power, along with a leader who lobbied local politicians, raised funds for causes they wanted to back, and strengthened similar unions all across the country. The OFJ, with only about 50 members, was relatively powerless - until they decided to file a lawsuit to force the City to strip discriminatory practices from it’s city-wide departments.[6]

Officers for Justice, et al v. San Francisco Civil Service Commission, et al.

The 1973 the Officers for Justice, now fed up completely with the lack of fairness in employment practices and promotions, filed a Federal class-action lawsuit against San Francisco's Civil Service Commission. Among many other things, the OFJ sought to eliminate the height and strength requirements in hiring new police, thereby expanding opportunities for women, Asians and Latins. It set specific goals for hiring women and minorities, commensurate with an otherwise qualified applicant pool. It also challenged the standards and methods of weighting criteria (% of importance applied to each of the three parts of entrance and promotional tests).[13]

Early on in the lawsuit, the white POA joined the Defendants thus widening the sometimes aggressive rift between minority and white officers, which continued through the years as the case progressed in the Courts. The Plaintiffs knew the case had precedent-setting potential, and the Defendants fought against that at every opportunity. In spite of the wranglings, the Consent Decree (Settlement) was finally ready for approval in 1979.

The zebra murders

A small group of radical black Muslims, operating In one of the most liberal cities in America, set about trying to kill enough white people to cause a backlash that would then lead to a race war. Of course it was not immediately obvious that the early cases were connected, but when the police realized they were, they changed their internal reference name from "The .32 Caliber Killings," to The Zebra Murders because of the radio frequency “Z” channel upon which all related police calls were transmitted. They constituted a string of serial murders from October 1973 to April 1974. The targeting of white victims caused the death of 15 people and at least eight more were wounded.[6]

The police determined that the killing spree began with the hideous murder of Quita Hague (28), and maiming of her husband Richard Hague (30). Detectives Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong, acquired the Quita Hague killing as a part of their regular rotation, would later turn all of their files over to Gus Coreris and John Fotinos who would lead the task force that was formed to concentrate on these crimes - not yet realized as serial killings. As the months passed by and random murders continued throughout the city, citizens were fearful and on edge, demanding results.[6]

Since witnesses reported that the suspects may have been African-American, on April 18th Mayor Joseph Alioto authorized a ‘stop and question’ program whereby large numbers of blacks could all be stopped and questioned by police.[14] Later declared unconstitutional, the Mayor's program was heavily protested within the city, and the black community was fully enraged. [15] [16](In #14, the first large picture is of officer Herman Clark in plain clothes. When you click on the "play" arrow - the first video of a series will appear - Rotea Gilford giving a brief press conference just before the start of the first Zebra Task Force meeting. Below Herman Clark's picture are many more videos that show the level of protest and unrest in the City over Mayor Alioto's poor plan.) Without realizing it, Mayor Joseph Alioto had heightened racial tension, and was now feeding the environment the murderers hoped for. In addition to tension in the community, the failure to get a break in the case was heightening racial tension to the breaking point within the SFPD as well.[6]

Operation "Zebra"

Responding to public outcry and in an effort to calm things down, Rotea started to think about a better way of doing things. On April 19th he wrote a memo to Charles Barca, Captain of the Inspectors Bureau, proposing a 30 person task force of mostly black, plain-clothes officers[6](photos). The officers would go to neighborhoods where the killings had occurred to talk with witnesses who might not have reported all of the things they witnessed to white officers. His plan was approved. Inspector Gilford ran the team, with inspector Sanders assisting. (See the paragraph above, and the videos accompanying it.)[16]

The sketches

Lead Zebra investigators Gus Coreris and John Fotinos asked witnesses to work with a police artist to create a rendition of possible suspects. The sketches were released to the newspapers [6] (photos). The case was generating tons of leads, most going nowhere, when unbeknownst to any of them, one of the murderers was shaken by how much the drawing looked like him. On the afternoon of April 22, 1974, after seeing a notice in the newspaper about a $30,000 reward, and fearing that the police were nearly ready to arrest him, Anthony Harris called the police. After several days of unstable and tense negotiation, Harris agreed to testify. All of the investigators were called in, and plans for capturing the other perpetrators began.[6]

Gilford's team was called in and they then began around-the-clock surveillance on several of the key suspects. But something had changed. Sanders expounds . . . “Gus and John were the number one and number two inspectors; there was no doubt about that. But we'd been right there all the way. Now that it was getting near the end, we couldn't help but feel like we were being pushed back . . . Gil especially felt that way. Zebra became personal for him. He and I looked up to Malcolm X and believed there was a lot of good the Nation had done. But to see something we loved, like civil rights, turned into something evil pained us in ways you can't describe."[6]

Neither Inspector's Gilford or Sanders were allowed to make a single arrest.[6] Despite their work churning up evidence and coming up with theories, neither ever testified. Sanders took it in stride. He was a young officer and expected to have other opportunities in the future. Gilford felt otherwise. He saw it for what it was, a deliberate attempt to minimize the efforts of the black officers and his supervisory and investigative skill. He also saw it as an act of "payback" for the class-action suit Gilford and Sanders initiated against San Francisco for its unfair practices.[6]

Bronze medal of valor

For services rendered on Monday, December 20,1976, at approximately 1425 hours, while proceeding south on Highway 280 and after hearing the broadcast of a kidnapping with the description and license number of two armed suspects, (Inspectors Rotea Gilford and Earl Sanders) observed the suspect vehicle approaching from the rear, approximately 100 yards from the police vehicle. The officers slowed down allowing the suspect vehicle to pull abreast of the unmarked patrol vehicle. The suspects then tried to flee and the Inspectors gave chase. The suspect vehicle crashed into a guard rail at the 25th Street off ramp. One of the suspects, as they were ordered out of the vehicle, pointed his weapon directly at the officer. The Inspector felt that the suspect was going to shoot and was at the point of firing his weapon when the suspect dropped his gun. All suspects were then taken into custody.[8]

Personal loss

In the early Summer of 1977, Rotea's eldest son, Michael Rotea Gilford, became ill with a mysterious internal infection. Michael graduated from Archbishop Riordan High School and won entrance to the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. He played football at both schools Annapolis, and then again as he finished college at Santa Clara University. Suffering flu-like symptoms he was hospitalized and given strong antibiotics, and surgeries to drain the infection, for three long months. In spite of the Center for Disease Control's collaboration with the local hospital, Michael died on October 11, 1977. His father was deeply and profoundly affected by his loss. An autopsy did not help to further define the origin or nature of the infection, and its presence remains a terrible mystery.

Mayor's office

In 1975, San Francisco elected California State Senator George Moscone as their mayor. A man of the people, Moscone ran a grassroots populist race, the first since the City passed a campaign spending law limiting spending to $128,000 per candidate. The San Francisco Examiner declared him "the poorest candidate".[17] His campaign was buoyed by strong support from gay, labor, and minority civil rights groups.[17] Once again he reached out to State Assemblyman Willie Brown for campaign support, and Brown enlisted Gilford's help with the city’s black vote. In return for that support, if elected, Moscone would put Gilford’s name forward to be the new Chief of Police.[6]

With the help of State College friend, Willie Brown, Gilford finally hoped to wash the Department clean of unfair racist practices and attitudes. Moscone kept his word, but the Police Commissioners wouldn't approve the appointment until Gilford had more administrative experience.[6]

Mayor's criminal justice council

When George Moscone took office, the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Council (“MCJC”) was a group of 24 department heads, and a staff of nearly the same size. The Council itself was made up of Police, Juvenile Administrators, Probation and Parole, Senior Services, Social Services, the Court System, etc. Together they were charged with channeling and administering millions of dollars available (1976 value) to San Francisco from the Federal and State coffers.

In June 1978, California voters demanded tax reform by passing California’s Proposition 13, which meant that the City would now be losing millions of dollars that were then funding many of the city’s programs designed to help these issues. The group needed a strong and thoughtful leader who was familiar with the racial unrest of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The previous mayor, Joseph Alioto, appointed William Mallen to head MCJC but Moscone thought Mallen might be better suited to another function. Moscone then moved Bill Mallen to a judgeship and appointed Rotea Gilford to be Executive Director of the Mayor’s Criminal Justice Council.[18] The San Francisco Examiner announced that Gilford . . . "will take charge of an agency that coordinates law enforcement planning and dispenses upward of $2 million yearly among 24 public and private agencies." In the same article, George Moscone said, " . . . Gilford (50), is an experienced police officer with a broad and distinguished background in law enforcement. I am confident he will do an outstanding job."[18]

A dark fog envelops the city

Though there was a slow and foreboding build-up in both instances, two separate, unthinkable acts occurred within nine days of one another and the whole city wept. On November 18, 1978, the mass “suicide” of 909 people (mostly African American) who had moved from San Francisco to Jim Jones’s “Jonestown” in Guyana, occurred. Also killed was U.S. Representative Leo Ryan and members of his staff who had traveled there to investigate rumors of human rights abuses, and that most of the people who wanted to return to the United States were being stopped. Ryan, his then staffer, Jackie Speier, and members of a camera crew were gunned down at the airfield as they tried to escape. Jackie Speier survived five gunshots, but Ryan, three journalists, and a Jonestown defector did not.[17]

Then, in a completely unrelated event, on Monday morning, November 27, Dan White, a disgruntled former San Francisco Supervisor, who had voluntarily quit his seat with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors because he found it difficult to manage his family's budget on the low Supervisor's pay, came to City Hall to convince George Moscone to put him back on the Board. He came with a gun. When Moscone refused to reinstate him, White shot him in his chest and in his arm, and then two shots to the head. He turned and walked all the way across City Hall to the Supervisor’s offices to locate and then shoot Supervisor Harvey Milk five times as well. The final two from his gun were to Milk’s head. [17]

Following a meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Dianne Feinstein was sworn in as the new Mayor on December 6th. Her choice to retain Rotea and the rest of the Moscone staff was both a matter of personal principle, and of political survival.[17]

1979 consent decree

After George Moscone and Harvey Milk were murdered, Mayor Feinstein would need to fill three seats on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors: Harvey Milk’s, Dan White’s, and her own. She was permitted to hear Harvey Milk’s audio taped Will, which he had dictated because he believed he would be assassinated. The Will gave a list of four people he thought would loyally carry out his progressive ideas. She chose one of those four, Harry Britt. Near the same time the Consent Decree reached in the OFJ et al. v. Civil Service Commission, et al. [13] was ready for signature by parties, including the Board of Supervisors on behalf of the City. Mayor Feinstein hoped Britt would side with her, and not approve the Decree. But Harry Britt sided with the black officers, fully supporting the position Harvey Milk had long favored, and the settlement was approved at last.[17]

The young Officers for Justice felt strongly that the case they were bringing against the Civil Service Commission would have the power to set precedents, and to affect cases like theirs all across our nation. They were right. To date, in public and private sector lawsuits all across the country, the OFJ v. SF Civil Service has been cited in 844 cases. [6] [19]

Revival - Rotea schools the mayor

Though Mayor Feinstein worked feverishly to soothe and cajole the grand old city’s elements into a peaceful and pretty new state of glory after years of upset and pain, what it really would take is something that joined rich and poor, black and white, the faithful and newbie’s - Football! Since the Mayor knew nothing of the nuances of the game, Rotea, the coach, became her teacher.

In 1977, Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. bought his son a football team. Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. a brash young real estate developer was now the owner of the San Francisco 49ers. The city had no idea what to expect from this young owner, but since they’d been on the bottom for so many years, hope sprang eternal. Pitifully, in 1978 the 49ers finished with a 2-14 record. In 1979, they fired their head coach and hired the offensive wizard from Stanford University, Bill Walsh, in 1979. Walsh was rumored to be too cerebral and not tough enough, but DeBartolo saw the spark and ignored the naysayers. Walsh's team started 3-0 but finished with a record 6-10. Faithful 49er fans were thrilled with the DeBartolo/Walsh/Montana combination that they could feel pumping good red blood back into their veins. Joe Montana played in every game in the 1980 season, but he mostly backed up Quarterback Steve DeBerg. In 1981, with Joe Montana installed at quarterback, the 49ers were a different team and went on to win their first Super Bowl. During 1980 the 49ers were the most thrilling thing in the city. Gilford would accompany Mayor Feinsten to her VIP box at Candlestick Park to teach her the game as it was played. His staff joked about their additional desk-side coaching sessions. Gilford accompanied Feinstein to the Super Bowl in Detroit in 1982 (and all other 49er Super Bowls) where the 49ers won the NFL Championship, the first of five victories. Perhaps the 49er malaise of the 1970’s reflected the city’s broken spirit, and the team’s success in the 1980’s their emergence to Camelot.

Deputy Mayor for Criminal Justice

As Mayor Feinstein’s tenure progressed she depended upon Rotea for much more than the normal purview of his MCJC position, which is reflected in some fifty newspaper articles about subjects she called upon him to handle, such as: Police policy, politics, and procedures[20] [21] [22][23], homeless shelters[24] and fraud within them[25], a foster care system review[26], location for a new mental health facility[27], jail overcrowding[28], interracial conflict and ghetto underclass[29], and drugs in the city’s housing projects[30] [31].

In addition to his daily tasks he also served as: Member, San Francisco Jail & Planning Committee (with the National Council on Crime & Delinquency); Member, State Task Force on Gangs & Drugs, Final Report, 1989[32]; Member, California Council on Criminal Justice (Sacramento); Gilford testified at the state capitol on sentencing of violent or mentally ill prisoners[33]; Commissioner, on the San Francisco County Parole Commission; Member, National Forum for Black Public Administrators; and Member, California Association of Black Correctional and Probation Officers.

Focus on adolescents & mentorship

Throughout Rotea’s adult life he had a passion for young people and team sports.[34] He coached baseball, basketball and football for the Catholic Youth Organization and the Police Athletics/Activities League and, in 2009 was inducted into the PAL’s Hall of Fame at their 50th Anniversary Celebration - eleven years after his death. The award was accepted by University of San Francisco Hall of Famer and retired NBA player Kevin Restani, who was coached by Gilford right alongside his own two sons Michael and Steven.

Mentoring came as natural as breathing for Gilford. He took every opportunity to help guide young and old, family, friend, or foe. If you’d take the time to listen, Rotea had something to impart. The phone rang just as busily at home as it did at City Hall - and so did the doorbell. All in need, or just looking for a few laughs, were welcome. In April 2020, an article in “The Nation” entitled “The End of the Campaign is Not the End of the Movement,” was written by Steve Phillips who received Gilford’s helping hand in his bid for the San Francisco School Board - and thought enough of his experience to write about it 32 years later.[35]

Erroneous linkage with zodiac case

In a now debunked book[36] an author tells a mostly fictional tale which posits that his birth father might have been the Zodiac Killer. In his story the author submits that Rotea Gilford abused his power as a Homicide Inspector by not revealing the identity he had discovered, in order to protect his second wife, Judith Chandler. Although Judy did run away with this author's father, Earl Van Best, Jr. in 1962, when she was 14 years old, her juvenile records were expunged in 1965 when she turned 18 years of age. Rotea went to the Homicide detail in 1971, two years after the only San Francisco killing claimed by the Zodiac. Though it was an open case when he worked at the bureau, it was being worked on by the team of detectives in charge of it, Dave Toschi and Bill Armstrong, who were assigned the case under their usual team rotation.


Due to the remarkably preserved and detailed daily plantation record books notated by planter, Green Mark Wood, Rotea Gilford's genealogy has been traced back to the Greenwood Plantation in Montgomery County, Texas (near Willis where he was born). The Wood and Tolbert families have transferred the information to the internet for all to view. Wood details his move from a plantation in Alabama, to the property near Willis. It took months to complete the move of his family and more than 80 slaves, after encountering cholera at the Mississippi River and losing 13 of his slaves there. He documents delivering "Guilford & his Family, 15 in all...." on March 10, 1850.[37] [38]

Rotea is descended from his second great-grandfather, a highly regarded slave named “Guilford” born in 1837, who married Leah (Baltrip). In a codicil to his will, Green Mark Wood directs, Guilford be allowed to choose which of his children he wanted to serve, and to receive a monthly cash stipend. Wood died in 1868 (after Emancipationn) so the codicil was not in effect, but it's the unusual provision that makes you want to know more. There is strong evidence that Guilford originally came from Green Wood's father’s plantation in Georgia, and on to Alabama with the son. Upon Emancipation all of Guilford’s surviving descendants took the surname of “Guilford/Gilford”.[39]


The San Francisco Mounted Patrol greeted and stood guard over a crowd of nearly 1,000 family, friends and dignitaries at a Celebration of Rotea Gilford’s life on March 18, 1998 at the West Bay Convention Center, right down on Fillmore at Eddy Street where Rotea used to patrol. After a brief service, speakers formed a line to tell stories of their relationship, and the impact he had on them - for three more hours. From the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, [40] [34] [41] here are a few of their remarks:

Assistant Chief of Police Earl Sanders said, "(Gilford) showed that if you treated everyone with respect, you would receive a lot more cooperation. He practiced the ultimate ideal of community policing - long before the term became popular." In another interview, Sanders said, “ . . . worth is actually measured by the number of people you help. By that measure, he was a vastly rich man.” From his book, he writes, "It's kind of like Moses - Gil may not have gotten into the Promised Land, but he was the one who led the way." [6]

Homicide Inspector Napoleon Hendrix, said “He was a lightning rod for black investigators. He set the standard that we follow.”

Chief of Police (1996-2002), Fred Lau - in his speech, “If you are a woman or minority on the SFPD, you owe your job to Rotea Gilford.”

Fire Chief, Robert L. Demons (1996-2000), who also grew up in the Fillmore district and met Mr. Gilford when he was a cop there, said: ``He served as a role model for me in the fight for justice over the years in the Fire Department. [42]

Mayor Willie L. Brown - “He was a close friend and a legendary police officer. His great love was athletics and recreation. I was delighted I had a chance to put him on the Recreation and Parks Commission.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein, “The special thing about Rotea is he believed in close family. He was a wonderful mentor to young people. His no-nonsense philosophy is what I appreciated. He was old school - hard work, discipline, family and loyalty.

Rev. Cecil Williams, Glide Memorial Church, “He was a trumpeter for justice, for children, and against racism.”

Hadley Roff, Former Deputy Mayor for Dianne Feinstein, “He had a fabulous, interesting background. He was passionate and committed to what he was doing. He put his heart and soul into his work.”

Kim Mitchell, President of T.U.R.F., “He was instrumental in putting us together with the Mayor. He changed our minds about police officers. He was so radical and outspoken - teaching us the right way about life.”

In a letter to the Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle from Thomas Eastham (former Executive Editor of the Examiner, and Press Secretary to Dianne Feinstein) a few days after Rotea died, Eastham writes, “San Francisco was a smaller place Monday. Rotea Gilford was gone. Whether climbing the tall ladder to become the city's first black police inspector, holding high office with four San Francisco mayors, or persuading young people to do right, Rotea was the best. He stood for excellence -- never demanding respect, always winning it. Never asking for special treatment -- but always earning it. Rotea was a model -- not just for his race, but for all of us. [43]


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External links

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