In the face of criticism over a task force to probe law enforcement misconduct in San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascon is maintaining that his three-pronged investigation is not meddling but rather taking on issues that are his office’s sole responsibility.
A spate of recent misconduct includes deputies allegedly forcing inmates in County Jail to fight, bigoted text messages sent between police officers and employee conduct at The City’s crime lab.
The first and most important reason for the task force, which was launched March 30, is to ensure cases tried by Gascon’s office have used evidence legally obtained and untainted by bias. What’s more, all of the evidence in prosecutions — its source and any concerns around it — must be made available to defense attorneys, which may not have been the case in these instances.
“It’s not a police matter in that I, as an elected DA, have the primary responsibility to make sure this is done right,” Gascon told The San Francisco Examiner on Monday about the roughly 3,000 cases that might be affected by the text message and crime lab scandal. “There may be cases that are compromised.”
Therefore, the scandals besetting law enforcement in The City forced him to take action.
The police union and Chief Greg Suhr have questioned Gascon’s motives and authority, pointing out, in Suhr’s case, that Gascon is up for re-election this year. The union claims Gascon is overstepping his responsibility and cleaning up a mess he should have dealt with as chief from August 2009 to January 2011.
But Gascon says his task force is neither a political move nor an overstep of his authority.
Regarding the bigoted text messages that were made public as part of the federal police corruption prosecution and issues with DNA processing at The City’s crime lab, Gascon said his team will first look at the cases in which people are in custody to make sure everything that should have been disclosed to defense attorneys was handed over.
Gascon’s team plans to review arrest records of the officers caught up in the text scandal to see if there are patterns of racial or other bias. Once they have a handle on the number of cases impacted, then it will take the next step.
When it comes to staged fights in County Jail, Gascon said his office is already tasked with prosecuting law enforcement wrongdoing. So, instead of viewing the investigation as an overreach, Gascon said it is in line with his office’s stated mission.
Gascon expects the task force to issue its finding within a year, but did not commit to a specific date.
The District Attorney’s Office has said these scandals may point to systemic issues in The City’s law enforcement community. Gascon’s chief of staff, Cristine Soto DeBerry, said during a recent hearing at the Board of Supervisors that there is too little disclosure about and too little consequence for misconduct when police and sheriff’s deputies do wrong.