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SFPD officer fired for anti-Muslim text message is example of department’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy

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In a third case of controversial texts sent by police, one officer has lost his job. (Rachael Garner/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)
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A San Francisco police officer who allegedly texted anti-Muslim messages to other officers was fired last month by the San Francisco Police Commission at the recommendation of Chief William Scott, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

The revelation comes during a time of reforms that, in part, sprang out of a series of biased policing scandals, including two instances in which groups of officers got caught sending racist or bigoted text messages.

The first and most scandalous text messages were sent or received by a group of officers in 2011 and 2012, but were not revealed until several years later in a federal police corruption trial in 2015. The second incident emerged in 2016 and involved officers in the Sunset District sending messages to one another.

In this latest case, the officer sent the message or messages on a private phone sometime between 2014 and 2015, according to sources with knowledge of the incident but who did not want their names published.

The latest text was discovered through a District Attorney’s Office investigation into a group of Taraval Station officers, whose own racist texts were made public by the Public Defender’s Office in 2016 after they received court documents related to the messages.

The Taraval Station officers include Jason Lai and Curtis Liu, both of whom have since left the force. Their messages were discovered during a District Attorney’s Office criminal investigation involving an alleged sexual assault.

In the latest case, the officer allegedly attempted to right his wrong by volunteering at an Islamic center and educate himself about the faith he had allegedly disparaged, according to a lawyer close to the case.

While the department is barred from releasing the name of the officer, Police Commission President Julius Turman told the Board of Supervisors on March 7 that the commission does not take accounts of bias lightly. The firing of the officer in this case is proof of that, he said.

The commission is the only body with the power to fire officers, but the chief can recommend to them what he thinks the punishment should be in discipline cases.

Scott, who was sworn in to his post in January, deferred to Turman when asked by the San Francisco Examiner about the firing, and would not comment on the case.

Additionally, the department would not officially comment on the case as it is a personnel matter and it is barred from releasing such information by law.

The officer’s lawyer, Michael Hinckle, did not return a call for comment. The San Francisco Police Officers Association had no comment on the firing.

But Tony Brass, who represented Liu and has represented officers for the POA in the past, said the text messages were sent from one private phone to another. He also noted the officer’s effort to educate himself about Islam.

But none of that seemed to please the police chief, said Brass.

“It seems like it’s a zero-tolerance situation now,” said Brass. “This case seems to stand for the proposition that once the Police Department has concluded that you expressed some biased view there’s no fixing it … you’re just done.”

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