Gascon vows to challenge corruption in city law enforcement, politics

The police scandals and political corruption that have mared San Francisco’s image over the past year were compared by District Attorney George Gascon, in his second inaugural address, to a dark era in The City’s past when graft and public misdeeds were common.

In 1906, the district attorney took down the mayor’s political henchmen and other officials.

On Wednesday Gascon said he will launch a similar effort in his plan to root out public corruption and push forward with criminal justice reforms.

“Whether police, politician or powerhouse, we must rein-in misconduct in the public realm,” he said before an audience at the Hall of Justice. “The only thing worse than violating the public trust is to let that violation go unanswered.”

Gascon’s remarks were only his most recent effort to address issues in law enforcement. His office launched an inquiry into bias in city law enforcement last year after allegations surfaced of sheriff’s deputies staging fights in County Jail and racist and homophobic text messages sent between police officers were revealed.

“The revelation rocked our criminal justice system,” Gascon said of the text scandal. “These behaviors are eroding the foundation of a legal system that is built on the concepts of fairness and due process.

Gascon spoke before an audience of several hundred, including supervisors Scott Wiener, Aaron Peskin and David Campos and City Attorney Dennis Herrera, in an overflowing sixth-floor auditorium.

“It is heartbreaking to learn of the racist and homophobic sentiments held by some in our police force,” he said.

In the speech, Gascon did not explicitly mentioned the December shooting death of Mario Woods at the hands of police, but called such similar incidents a setback for equal rights.

“2015 was a difficult year for the criminal justice system both across the country, and right here in San Francisco,” he said. “We have seen troubling videos of police using excessive force. And we heard countless stories of police misconduct.”

While his department is investigating the shooting, charges have yet to be filed against the officers involved.

But his efforts have not been well-received by all.

The head of the police union, Martin Halloran, said the Blue Ribbon Panel inquiry into bias in the police department, which was formed by Gascon, has no authority.

On Tuesday, Board of Supervisors President London Breed called Gascon’s announcement that The City plans to build a behavioral health center in lieu of a new jail “grandstanding,” saying she had already introduced the plans at the board last month.

Earlier this year, Mayor Ed Lee denied a request to help fund the Blue Ribbon Panel, saying that he did not want city agencies to be pitted against one another.

Chief Greg Suhr has previously dismissed Gascon’s Blue Ribbon Panel and said the department could discipline its own officers.


Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeink

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