Nearly a year after the San Francisco Police Department was rocked by a series of controversial videos made and featuring officers, Chief Heather Fong announced Thursday that she has filed disciplinary charges against 35 department members.
The videos, a series of vignettes that Mayor Gavin Newsom described as racist, sexist and homophobic, included images of Bayview Station police officers ogling a woman at a traffic stop, ignoring radio calls while going into a massage parlor and dealing with homeless people insensitively. Fong and Newsom announced their existence on Dec. 7, 2005. The statute of limitations for department discipline is one year.
On Thursday, Fong announced that she would personally administer discipline to 28 officers. The cases against seven other officers will be brought before the San Francisco Police Commission, the department’s civilian oversight body. Fong has the authority to impose discipline up to 10-day suspensions. Longer suspensions and terminations must be imposed by the commission after a hearing.
"It’s a disgrace that it’s taken this long, whether or not they’re guilty," Police Commissioner Joe Alioto Veronese said Thursday. "No investigation as transparent as what happened here should take a year to investigate. Those are officers that were in a video. We know who was involved."
Fong said Thursday that the investigation took nearly a year because internal department investigators had to interview many people, review hundreds of documents and cross-reference their findings. "We wanted to make sure this was thorough, complete and fair," she said.
The videos, which Officer Andrew Cohen produced for a Bayview Station holiday party, led to the immediate administrative suspension of 24 police personnel of varying ranks, primarily from the Bayview Station. Those suspensions were not a disciplinary act, but rather intended to remove the officers from the situation while the department began its investigation, Fong said.
The time officers spent on administrative leave may be credited toward possible disciplinary suspensions, but that willnot be clear until the disciplinary process is completed, Fong said Thursday.
Cohen and 18 other officers involved in the video scandal sued the department for $20 million in August, alleging that they were being disciplined more harshly than officers of Asian descent. The lawsuit alleges that Fong moved 20 officers to administrative "no contact" positions, while four officers were not disciplined because of their Asian heritage.
Fong has refused to give a deposition in that lawsuit until after the disciplinary cases are settled, Waukeen McCoy, the lawyer representing those officers, said Thursday.
Cohen and other officers involved in the videos maintain that they were a satire of police work. The videos came to light after Cohen posted them on his personal Web site last year.
In December, Newsom vowed to create a blue-ribbon committee to "change the culture of the department," but that committee never materialized. Fong said Thursday that the department already has policies in place against discrimination, and that training and refresher courses emphasizes those policies.
San Francisco Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes acknowledged last year that the videos were offensive in their content, but he said the response from the Mayor’s Office was a "convenient political statement.’’
Staff Writer Bonnie Eslinger contributed to this report.