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Years after racist text messaging scandal, SF police officers to face discipline

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The San Francisco Police Headquarters and Public Safety Building campus in Mission Bay. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

At least four of the San Francisco police officers caught sending racist and homophobic text messages will have their disciplinary cases heard behind closed doors Wednesday at the Police Commission after years of legal wrangling.

Nine of the 14 San Francisco Police Department officers implicated in the text messaging scandal sued The City in 2015, alleging that then-Chief Greg Suhr had waited too long to pursue discipline against them for sending messages in 2011 and 2012 that included jokes about burning crosses.

Federal prosecutors revealed the text messages during the corruption trial of former Sgt. Ian Furminger in 2015. Suhr waited until after Furminger’s conviction to pursue discipline, including termination, against some of the officers, in an effort to protect the investigation.

A judge sided with the officers in the lawsuit at first, finding that the statute of limitations under state law had expired by the time Suhr filed the disciplinary charges, but a state appeals court overturned that decision in May.

Last week, another San Francisco Superior Court judge allowed the Police Commission to move forward with disciplinary proceedings after the California Supreme Court declined to hear the officers’ challenge of the appeals court ruling in September.

SEE RELATED: CA Supreme Court: SF can seek discipline against cops in racist text scandal

Officer Rain Daugherty was the only officer named in the lawsuit. The other eight officers were identified only by disciplinary case number. Four of those numbers appear on the closed-session agenda for the Police Commission on Wednesday, including the case of an officer who retired Oct. 25.

City payroll records show that Officer Michael Celis, who has previously been named in connection with the scandal, separated from the department on that date.

Celis, a 19-year veteran of the SFPD, earned $121,388 a year before overtime and benefits.

At least seven other officers besides Daughtery, Furminger and Celis have been named in news reports about the scandal: Sean Doherty, Angel Lozano, Richard Ruiz, Michael Robison, Noel Schwab, Michael Wibunsin and Jason Fox.

Of those officers, records show that Daugherty, Doherty, Fox, Lozano and Wibunsin remain on the force. It is unclear whether the latter four are among the officers facing discipline. State law protects the anonymity of officers facing disciplinary charges.

But Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said the officers who are facing discipline have been suspended with pay.

Montoya said the officers no longer with the department either resigned or retired.

An excerpt of the racist text messages filed in federal court (S.F. Examiner file photo)

“The text messages which we’ve heard were abhorrent,” Montoya said. “We’re disgusted by what was allegedly said, but we’re not defending on the officers based on the substance of what they’ve been said to have committed, we’re defending them on their constitutional rights.”

Montoya was referring to the statute of limitations for filing disciplinary charges that Suhr allegedly violated.

Of the officers still employed by the SFPD, Fox earns the most at $217,672 a year in base pay as a police captain and 23-year veteran of the department.

Wibunsin, a sergeant and 15-year veteran, earns $150,841 annually.

Daughtery, Doherty and Lozano earn between $129,896 and $135,595 each.

As for the officers who separated from the department, records show Robison left in March 2015, Schwab left in April 2015 and Ruiz left in September 2016.

On Wednesday, the Police Commission is expected to hold a status conference and set a future date for three of the four disciplinary cases in closed session.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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