Three judges from outside San Francisco have been tasked with heading the District Attorney’s Office investigation into a series of bigoted text messages sent by a handful of officers and any possible larger issues of bias among police ranks.
“If we want the public to trust law enforcement we need a culture of justice, transparency and accountability,” District Attorney George Gascon told The San Francisco Examiner. “The actions of a few have undermined the public’s faith in the police officers who are sworn to protect us. The independent panel of experts will foster transparency and accountability as we take steps to remove bias from our system.”
The judges are LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, Cruz Reynoso and Dickran Tevrizian. They were chosen for their records in civil rights and their independence, and they will review 3,000 arrests linked to the officers to see if arrests were biased and whether those arrests resulted in wrongful convictions. The results of the review could mean that innocent people are freed, but it also could mean people who are guilty but were convicted through bias are let go as well.
The panel will also inquire into whether there is a culture of bias in the Police Department.
The task force was created following a federal court filing in the corruption case of convicted former police Sgt. Ian Furminger that contained racist and hate-filled text messages sent or received by 14 San Francisco police officers, seven whom have since been recommended for dismissal. Furminger was seeking bail while he appealed the conviction.
Thursday's announcement comes amid an ongoing national debate on race and the justice system. While protests and riots recently broke out in Baltimore and other cities after the death of another black man at the hands of police, San Francisco has itself not been immune to the taint of racism and bias.
Just this year, in addition to the text message scandal, a Public Defender’s Office investigation revealed that a handful of deputies allegedly pitted inmates against one another in jailhouse fights; a federal prisoner escaped from County Jail; and The City’s crime lab was found to have mishandled DNA.
Gascon announced in late March the formation of a three-pronged task force to investigate this series of alleged misdeeds. The three arms of the task force are focusing separately on issues at County Jail, the police crime lab and the text message scandal. The FBI is leading the investigation into the prisoner, while the District Attorney's Office is playing a supporting role. The jail fighting investigation is being headed by District Attorney's Office officials with support from the FBI. In the case of the crime lab, the District Attorney's Office is working with a national crime lab entity to investigate issues around mishandling DNA. Until now, District Attorney's Office officials alone were looking into the impacts of the text messages.
All three judges come with hefty civil rights records. None are being paid for their work, which will result in a report that will be made public.
LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, a former Santa Clara County Superior Court judge and former Palo Alto City Council member, is currently San Jose’s independent police auditor. In 2011, she won the Defender of the Constitution award from the Santa Clara Valley chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She was the first black woman to sit on the Superior Court in Northern California.
Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also sat on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was a member of the Select Commission on Immigration and Human Rights.
Judge Dickran Tevrizian was a U.S. District Court judge for the Central District until he retired in 2007. Before that he was a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. He was the first Armenian-American to serve as a federal judge and in 1999 was the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.