A handful of San Francisco police officers caught sending racist and homophobic text messages may escape disciplinary action from the department.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge tentatively decided on Friday that the police department waited too long to punish the officers involved after it discovered the messages in 2012, court records show. As a result, the department can’t punish them now, Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith said in his tentative ruling.
“The one-year statute of limitations period for investigating officer misconduct… serves to both protect the rights of police officers and to ensure the public’s safety,” said Goldsmith, who will hear arguments on the matter Monday morning.
A police spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation. The tentative ruling was first reported by KQED News.
The officers in question were brought up on disciplinary charges earlier this year for their part in a racist text scandal after the messages were revealed during a police corruption case in federal court. But since then Officer Rain Daugherty has argued on behalf of himself and some nine other unnamed officers that The City failed to file charges when the texts were first discovered years ago.
Goldsmith said the department failed twice in its duty to begin disciplinary proceedings within the statute of limitations. First when the text messages were internally revealed during the federal investigation and then when that investigation was completed.
The text messages, which were sent to his supervisor in October 2011 and August 2012, were first handed over to the department’s criminal internal affairs division in 2012, but the department argued that no disciplinary charges were filed because of the ongoing corruption investigation and subsequent trial of former Sgt. Ian Furminger.
The department brass, including Chief Greg Suhr, has said it was walled off from knowledge of the texts since it was in the hands of the criminal internal affairs division.
Those text message were revealed to department leaders, said Suhr, only after the Office of Citizen Complaints discovered them in court filings soon after Furminger was found guilty.
However, the department did not decide to charge the officers through the Police Commission with “conduct unbecoming of an officer” until April of this year, according to court filings.
Goldsmith noted Friday that the department could have filed the charges without interfering with the Furminger investigation in February 2014, when Furminger was indicted.
According to the ruling the department’s internal affairs investigator on the case, Lt. DeFilippo “had an obligation to initiate an administrative investigation of petitioner’s’ misconduct in December 2012, when he first learned of the misconduct. Per the one year statute of limitations period, the administrative investigation needed to be completed by December 2013.”
Allison Berry Wilkinson, who represents the officers in the suit, said the tentative ruling is a good sign for her clients, but it could still change at the next hearing Monday at 9:30 a.m. in Department 302.
“I would hesitate to comment because it is a tentative ruling,” she said.