A California appeals court on Wednesday overturned a judge’s ruling that found San Francisco could not punish a group of police officers caught sending racist and homophobic text messages in a federal misconduct probe.
The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco found that former police Chief Greg Suhr had appropriately waited until after the federal trial of a police sergeant ended to file disciplinary charges against nine other officers who sent the text messages.
The appeals court opinion means that the San Francisco Police Commission can hold a disciplinary hearing for the officers who remain in the San Francisco Police Department. Furminger resigned shortly after his conviction in December 2014.
“There is no doubt that the public’s interest in the integrity of SFPD was undermined by the offensive text messages,” Justice Martin Jenkins wrote a 38-page opinion with justices William McGuiness and Stuart Pollak. “The attitudes reflected in these messages displayed unacceptable prejudice against members of the communities SFPD is sworn to protect.”
The decision reverses the December 2015 ruling from now-retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith, who found that the SFPD had let the one-year statute of limitations for punishing the officers expire.
The SFPD first discovered the bigoted text messages during a joint police misconduct investigation with federal authorities while executing a search warrant on the phone of former Sgt. Ian Furminger in December 2012.
Goldsmith found that the statute of limitations ended a year later.
But the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not notify the administrative division of the SFPD about the text messages until just days after Furminger was found guilty at trial in December 2014.
Suhr filed disciplinary charges in April 2015 against nine other officers implicated in the text messages including Officer Rain Daugherty, who sued San Francisco for seeking charges too late.
In the decision, Jenkins wrote that the department acted in a timely manner because the statute of limitations was stayed throughout the criminal case.
John Cote, a spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, said the ruling upholds the SFPD’s “ability to coordinate with federal investigators to expose dirty cops and protect the public.”
“We’re very pleased the court found that police officials do not have to compromise a criminal investigation in order to pursue discipline against officers accused of abhorrent behavior,” Cote said. “Forcing public officials to choose between the two would have made a mockery of justice.”
“It is high time to proceed with a full and fair disciplinary process for the officers in question,” Cote added.
This story has been updated with additional information.