San Francisco can officially begin disciplinary proceedings against officers caught sending racist and homophobic text messages after a California Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday in the scandal.
The Supreme Court upheld a May appellate court decision that found former police Chief Greg Suhr had appropriately waited until after the federal trial of a sergeant to seek discipline against the nine officers who sent the text messages.
The messages were discovered in an FBI investigation into San Francisco police misconduct that netted convictions against three officers at Mission Police Station including former Sgt. Ian Furminger. Sent between 2011 and 2012, the messages disparaged black people and included jokes about burning crosses.
Officer Rain Daugherty sued The City on behalf of himself and eight other cops after Suhr filed disciplinary charges against them in 2015, arguing that the chief had waited too long from the time police learned of the text messages to seek punishment. The City Attorney’s Office argued that Suhr could not have filed the charges earlier without jeopardizing the criminal case.
“Officers accused of misconduct don’t get a free pass just because their texts came to light during a corruption investigation,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. “That is not what the law says, and it would make no sense. Now these officers can answer to the Police Commission.”
The City initially lost the case when a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled against the chief in December 2015, but the California Court of Appeal for the First District in San Francisco overturned the decision in May. The Supreme Court declined to review that decision Wednesday.
“The court made the right decision,” Herrera said. “Police should not have to compromise a criminal case in order to discipline officers accused of appalling behavior, like these text messages revealing prejudice against the very communities our officers are sworn to protect. Both the California Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal recognized what the law says: SFPD can and should investigate and prosecute corrupt officers before moving on to police misconduct revealed during the investigation.”
Alison Berry Wilkinson, the lead attorney for the officers, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The disciplinary hearings will be held in closed session at the Police Commission, where the officers will still have a chance to contest the allegations and punishment.