Racist texts by more San Francisco cops affect hundreds of cases

© Lucy Nicholson
Hundreds of criminal cases will likely need to be reviewed after even more San Francisco Police Department officers were found to have sent racist and homophobic text messages in the past few months.

The messages targeted and disparaged a variety of different minority groups, including African-Americans; Asians; Hispanics; and gays, lesbians and transgender people, according to the New York Times. Dozens of texts were uncovered, and the messaging continued despite the fact that 14 officers were already under investigation for sending similarly racist texts about “white power” and the Ku Klux Klan.

“This indicates some significant and deeper problems within the department,” SF District Attorney George Gascon told the NY Times. “This conduct is clearly a danger to the administration of justice and makes the work of San Francisco police more difficult.”

The exact content of the messages was not revealed, but the SFPD said the texts were found as detectives investigated Officer Jason Lai for an alleged sexual assault.

“We recognized that these messages have multiple problems,” Gascon told KNTV. “They have very explicit racist overtones, the N-word is used pretty regularly. There’s also comments related to the LBT [sic] community.”

Police said four officers sent messages “containing reprehensible racial and homophobic remarks,” but Gascon told the Los Angeles Times that five cops were involved.

In a statement, police said the department “acted immediately in suspending officers involved in these texts messages and referring the matter to the Police Commission for discipline up to and including termination.”

Since that action was taken, two officers have left the force and another faces potential termination.

Gascon said that “several hundred” cases will have to be reviewed for signs of bias, a process that is currently underway. Already, the district attorney’s office is reviewing some 4,000 cases related to its investigation involving the 14 officers previously caught sending racist messages. Thirteen cases have been dismissed so far.

While the San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) has often criticized Gascon, their statement on the newly discovered text messages had a different tone.

“The San Francisco Police Officers' Association condemns the appalling racist behavior committed by a handful of officers. They have disgraced the uniform and their profession,” union president Martin Halloran said. “This conduct will not be tolerated in the SFPD nor in the POA. Chief Suhr has the full support of the POA to take appropriate disciplinary action that protects the due process rights of the officers.”

“The reprehensible actions by a few officers do not reflect the overall commitment and dedication of the men and women of this department who serve and protect this city and its residents,” the union added.

The issue of offensive messages sent by SF police first popped up about a year ago, in March 2015, when officers were discovered to have sent texts that routinely called African-Americans “ni**ers” and denigrated gay people between 2011 and 2012. The officers were ultimately spared from discipline because police waited too long to punish them and the statute of limitations expired.

The discovery of even more texts also comes as the department is under investigation by the US Justice Department for its training and use-of-force policies. The probe was opened after police shot to death Mario Woods, a black man who police said was armed with a knife and disobeyed orders. However, video footage of the incident appears to contradict parts of that account.