The text messages compared blacks to animals and made light of shootings. They called Latinos “beaners” and targeted gay officers. And all of them were sent by San Francisco police officers.
Such are the contents of the latest bigoted text messages to come out of the San Francisco Police Department — released in detail Tuesday — which are one more piece of evidence that The City’s Police Department has a culture that condones bias, said Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
Adachi released the texts after receiving them through discovery in a related criminal case from the District Attorney’s Office, which first made the existence of the texts public last month but did not release the content of the messages. The case involved Officer Jason Lai, who was under investigation for an alleged sexual assault.
Tuesday’s release of the texts, first reported by CNN, gives a detailed picture of the messages that appear to have been sent by a group of Asian officers.
“There is a problem in the SFPD and I don’t think Chief [Greg] Suhr can contest that,” Adachi said. “It would be naive to believe these officers’ bigotry was reserved solely for text messages. It is a window into the biases they harbored. It likely influenced who they stopped, who they searched, who they arrested, and how they testified in criminal trials.”
The details of the texts could throw more fuel on the fire surrounding police misconduct, bias and use of force in San Francisco. Last year another group of officers was discovered to have sent similarly offensive text messages, but the department waited too long to discipline them and the one year statute of limitations ran out.
The combined scandals, as well as recent controversial police killings of Mario Woods in December and Luis Gongora earlier this month, have put the department under increasing pressure to change its culture and policies.
Meanwhile, a group of activists on a hunger striker have camped out in front of Mission Station and say they will not leave until police Suhr resigns or is fired, or Mayor Ed Lee resigns.
Suhr said Tuesday that there is no place in the department for officers who are racist or homophobic and he has taken swift action in this case.
“We will not have this in the San Francisco Police Department,” Suhr said of the texts, which he added have “sullied” the good name of the department.
Mayor Ed Lee on Tuesday reiterated that the texts were sent by a few “bad apples,” and that he still has “great confidence” in the chief.
“This chief is still a very good chief, and [in] my mind, he’s doing the best we can,” Lee told reporters at a news conference on housing for the homeless Tuesday. “We need to get rid of those bad apples real quickly and [make] sure we respect the other officers who are not engaging…[and] that want to be part of a really good police force.”
The more than 100 texts released by Adachi’s office were sent from October 2014 to August 2015 and involved an unknown number of people. Only Lai and another man’s name were noted on the texts.
“They’re like a pack of wild animals on the loose,” reads one text allegedly sent by Lai April 27, 2015.
“I hate the beaner. But I think the nig is worse,” reads another allegedly sent by Lai July 30, 2015.
Another, which used Cantonese slang degrading to blacks, was commenting on a shooting: “Bunch of hock gwais shooting each other. Too bad none of them died. One less to worry about.”
In all, Adachi said there are 207 cases that could be impacted by the texts. The previous racist text scandal, which involved 14 officers, has required the review of more than 2,000 cases, said Adachi.
This is just the latest of the “six or seven back to back scandals we’ve had,” said Adachi of the series of scandals that have occurred over the past several years.
The texts were first discovered late last year by police internal affairs investigators. But the public was not aware of the the texts until the District Attorney’s Office made their existence public last month.
Even then, District Attorney George Gascon would not release the actual texts to the media.
“The majority of our officers serve with distinction, but far too many officers have demonstrated racist and homophobic views to suggest these are isolated incidents rather than indicative of a larger cultural problem,” Gascon said in a statement Tuesday. “There must be fundamental change to ensure any officer harboring such views is precluded from wearing the uniform.”
The texts emerged from a sexual assault investigation involving Lai, who no longer works for the department. Lai was not charged with rape because there was not enough evidence, but he was charged with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of criminal records and four misdemeanor counts of misuse of confidential DMV records.
Former Officer Curtis Liu, who also no longer works for the department, is still under investigation for allegedly interfering with the sexual assault investigation. Both officers were stationed at the Taraval Station. Three other officers are being investigated for their alleged involvement.
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