Police Racist Text Messages Encouraged the Killing of “Half-Breeds”

Nicholas Iovino | Courthouse News Service


SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A widening scandal over San Francisco police officers sending racist and homophobic text messages has led the city’s public defender to call for a full civil rights investigation.

District Attorney George Gascón last week unveiled a second batch of racist texts, one year after a federal probe implicated 14 officers who exchanged texts calling African Americans “monkeys” and encouraging the killing of “half-breeds.”

In a Monday letter to Attorney General Kamala Harris, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said the racist texts are emblematic of a larger pattern that has allowed racism to fester within the department.

Adachi urged Harris to launch a full civil rights probe into the department, as the state did with the Maywood Police Department in 2007 and Riverside Police Department in 1999.

“An investigation would help settle the pressing question of whether the racism evidenced in these incidents is endemic of a culture within the department that allows these types of incidents to occur,” Adachi wrote in the April 4 letter.

Adachi cited a 2015 study that found African Americans – only 6 percent of the city’s population – account for 40 percent of arrests and are 10 times more likely to be convicted of a crime in San Francisco.

The latest batch of racist texts emerged in an investigation of Officer Jason Lai, who was suspected of sexual assault. Lai was not charged with sexual assault but was indicted on two counts of unlawful possession of criminal records and four counts of abusing his position to look up confidential DMV records.

The investigation revealed at least four officers exchanged racist and homophobic text messages that Gascón called “very, very derogatory.”

“There were text messages of a reprehensible, racist, homophobic nature,” San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told ABC-7 News.

In March 2015, the police chief sought to fire eight officers and discipline four others implicated in another racist texting scandal that came out of a federal corruption probe of Sgt. Ian Furminger.

Furminger was sentenced to four years in state prison last year for stealing money found during searches of drug dealers’ homes.

In December last year, a state court judge ruled that officers who sent racist texts in 2011 and 2012 could not be fired because the department waited too long to seek disciplinary action.

The state’s Peace Officer Bill of Rights imposes a one-year statute of limitations on punishing officers for misconduct. Seven of the officers continue to receive paychecks from the city while on administrative leave.

The more recent batch of racist and homophobic texts was discovered in cellphone records being reviewed in the Lai investigation.

The latest controversy sparked a war of words between the police chief and the city’s top prosecutor. In a March 31 letter to Gascón, the police chief said his department had informed the District Attorney’s Office about the text messages four times between September and January.

“For you to suggest that you discovered the text messages through your own criminal investigation would be disingenuous,” Suhr wrote. “This is not new information as our offices have been working closely on this case with at least three members of your staff to ensure the fair administration of justice.”

The racist and homophobic messages were buried in 44,000 pages of cellphone records that became evidence in the investigation of Lai.

Gascón told The Guardian newspaper that his office has looked through about 5,000 pages of text messages and has another 20,000 pages to review.

The district attorney must review all cases in which officers who exchanged racist text messages were involved and turn over the information to defense attorneys.

The city police department is under review by the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Blue Ribbon Commission.

Neither of those agencies has the power to require the department to implement reforms.

“Unlike both ongoing reviews, the state Attorney General’s Office has the power to force reform and implement training through court order,” Adachi said in an April 5 statement. “I believe strongly that the path to reform is through accountability and an independent investigation.”

Published by Courthouse News Service.