Officers file lawsuit against Chief Fong, alleging racism

A lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of 18 police officers assigned to the Bayview Station charges that police Chief Heather Fong was racist and unfair by disciplining only non-Asian officers in connection with a controversial video.

Twenty-four officers were suspended in December for participating in the creation of a video that Fong said contained “egregious, shameful and despicable acts.” Short video skits depicted officers in uniform ignoring radio calls, making suggestive comments and gestures and running over a homeless person with a patrol car.

The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, seeks $20 million in damages for the 18 of the 24 officers saying that four officers were excluded from discipline because of their race. The plaintiffs represent a diversity of racial backgrounds and include both men and women.

“It’s our position that The City and Chief Heather Fong, who is Chinese-American, demonstrated racial discrimination by disciplining only the non-Asian officers involved in the video,” the officers’ lawyer, Waukeen McCoy, said at a news conference held on the steps of The City’s Hall of Justice on Thursday.

McCoy said four Asian officers working in the Bayview Station were also “prominently featured” in the video, but were not singled out for what he said were unjustified disciplinary actions.

He called the video a “parody, for their [the police officers] own private viewing.”

The lawsuit claims that Fong moved the majority of officers to administrative or “no contact” positions while the four Asian officers were notdisciplined.

According San Francisco police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens, during the investigation, 24 officers were not disciplined but rather put on routine suspension and then put back to work shortly thereafter.

Gittens would not directly address the allegation of the four officers being excluded from any action and reiterated that the department had a policy of nondiscrimination.

A department investigation into the matter, which could result in formal discipline, including dismissal, is reportedly almost finished. If an officer is cleared of charges, the officer is entitled to reimbursement for the wages lost during the period of suspension, Gittens said.

McCoy said that because Fong, along with Mayor Gavin Newsom, called a press conference in December to denounce the videos and the officers involved, the officers were “humiliated publicly,” an action that couldn’t be reversed.

Eight of the officers, including Andrew Cohen, who created the video, did not return to their original beats, but were assigned to desk jobs that don’t involve public contact, according to Cohen, who attended the news conference and is a plaintiff to the lawsuit.

In response to the news of the lawsuit, Newsom supported Fong’s actions as “measured.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate on city time to be mimicking and mocking the community they serve,” Newsom said.

“It’s unfortunate that they think they can extract tens of millions of dollars based upon actions they took that precipitated a response from the police chief — not the other way around,” he said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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