Four officers who should have been punished for misconduct escaped discipline because Police Chief Bill Scott waited too long to take action on their cases, according to a new report.
One officer would have served a three-day suspension for arresting a person instead of issuing a citation. Another would have received a written reprimand for “unnecessarily engaging in a prolonged argument.”
But the chief failed to serve the officers with formal discipline before a one-year statute of limitations period expired, despite agreeing with civilian investigators that all four should be punished.
As a result, none of the officers were held accountable.
“Totally unacceptable and no excuse,” Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus said this week at the Police Commission meeting.
“You can see one time, maybe… but four times, forgive my alarm about this but it seems like blowing the statute of limitation is either absolute negligence on the [department] or willful,” DeJesus said. “That is not an error. That is something that’s profoundly wrong.”
This is not the first time the San Francisco Police Department has encountered this issue.
In 2015, a group of officers who were caught exchanging racist and homophobic text messages sued over then-Police Chief Greg Suhr taking too long to pursue discipline against them.
While subsequent court rulings ultimately allowed the Police Commission to move forward with discipline in 2018, many of the officers had by that point resigned or retired.
The issue returned to the Police Commission this week when a Department of Police Accountability report revealed that Scott let the limitations period expire in four cases.
Scott accepted blame for the situation and suggested that the cases had fallen by the wayside.
“That’s on us,” Scott told the commission.
The DPA did not name any officers in the report to comply with state law but did provide some details about the cases.
Three of the cases were resolved in 2019, while one was resolved at some point after June 2017.
Of the four who escaped discipline, two either failed to turn on a body-worn camera or to properly document an incident.
Scott told the commission the issue would not happen again. The department has set up a system of reminders to notify Internal Affairs investigators when the statute is going to expire.
“We have not had any of those recently because those systems have been fixed in terms of the internal infrastructure to make sure the reminders are there, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” Scott said.
“All of those issues have been resolved so we should not have any of those cases in the future,” he added.