SFPD Chief Greg Suhr addresses the community during a Town Hall meeting in response to the April 7 police shooting death of Luis Gongora held at the Laborers Internationl Union building in San Francisco's Mission District Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr addresses the community during a Town Hall meeting in response to the April 7 police shooting death of Luis Gongora held at the Laborers Internationl Union building in San Francisco's Mission District Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

SFPD watchdog spars with chief over officer discipline in rare public disagreement

A San Francisco police officer who sent inappropriate text messages to a woman offering to pay a ticket should have been more severely punished by Police Chief Greg Suhr, said the head of The City’s police watchdog agency in a rare show of public disagreement.

“I do not agree with that disposition,” said Joyce Hicks, head of the Office of Citizen Complaints, about the officer’s one-day suspension during Wednesday’s Police Commission meeting.

Less than a week after the latest fatal police shooting on April 7, which drew criticism over the way police handled the incident, the public spat marks a rare occasion in which the OCC disagrees with the chief — and it may mark a more aggressive chapter for the agency and its oversight commission.

Hicks’ remarks did not come voluntarily. They were prompted by a question from Commission President Suzy Loftus, who asked about the latest cases of police misconduct. The usual reaction from commissioners is to ask a few questions, but the commission rarely asks whether Hicks agrees with the chief’s discipline.

The case revolves around a text message sent by an officer to a woman who had received a ticket. The officer reportedly offered to pay the ticket and included a “winking” emoji, Hicks said. At first the woman was not inclined to report the message because she was “upset but afraid,” Hicks said.

But a retired police officer the woman knew convinced her to report the incident. She went with the retiree to the district station, and the station’s captain reported the incident to Internal Affairs.

An investigation was launched and the officer was disciplined with a one-day suspension. The case was never sent to the OCC. In fact, the OCC was never informed, which is a direct violation of department protocol.

Per department protocol, all complaints of officer misconduct originating from citizens must be investigated by the OCC, which then issues a recommendation about whether the case is warranted and the level of discipline the chief should mete.

The case never went to the OCC, and the recommended discipline, — more than what Chief Suhr doled out — was never part of the case files.

“What’s lacking here are written procedures,” said Hicks about the root of the oversight.

Whether those written procedures will be put in place remains to be seen.

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Read more criminal justice news on the Crime Ink page in print. Follow us on Twitter: @sfcrimeinkChief Greg SuhrCrimeOffice of Citizen Complaintspolice disciplineSan Francisco Police Department

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