Former police sergeant Ian Furminger was convicted on corruption charges in December 2014 for stealing money from drug dealers. (Examiner file photo)

Ex-cop in racist text scandal had past allegations of excessive force

The claims, which were not sustained, were made public under a new state transparency law

Long before an FBI investigation revealed that Ian Furminger exchanged racist text messages with other officers, the former police sergeant was accused of roughing up a drunk baseball fan.

In 1998, Furminger was working a Giants game at Candlestick Park, known at the time as 3Com Park, when the man allegedly knocked another officer down a set of stairs during a confrontation.

The man later said police slammed him into a handrail in retaliation before bringing him to a holding room at the ballpark, where officers including Furminger allegedly assaulted and threatened him.

“They were all basically stomping on me, yelling at me that I hurt one of their own,” the man told an investigator with the police watchdog agency in San Francisco at the time, according to newly released transcripts.

The Department of Police Accountability launched an investigation into Furminger and two other officers for the alleged assault.

The agency, then known as the Office of Citizen Complaints, also probed Furminger and a fourth officer for allegedly beating the man once more after transporting him to Bayview Station.

But in December 1998, the agency did not sustain the allegations against Furminger and two other officers, which means the investigators could not prove or disprove what the man reported.

The allegations against the fourth officer were determined to be unfounded.

The findings were not made public until Thursday, when the San Francisco Examiner obtained more than 200 pages of records on the case through a public records act request.

The Examiner filed the request under Senate Bill 1421, a new state transparency law that requires agencies to release files in certain cases including those in which an officer has been accused of using force resulting in great bodily injury.

Furminger would later be convicted in December 2014 of conspiracy to commit theft concerning a federally funded program, conspiracy against civil rights and two counts of wire fraud.

After his conviction, federal authorities unearthed text messages that showed Furminger had made comments to other officers including, “We burn the cross on the field! Then we celebrate Whitemas.”

The revelation brought shame to the San Francisco Police Department and was one of the factors that led to former Police Chief Greg Suhr asking the U.S. Department of Justice to review the department and make recommendations for reform.

Furminger resigned from the department and has since completed his prison sentence. He did not respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the SFPD declined to comment.

The files from 1998 are redacted and do not name the accuser or a witness to the alleged beatings.

According to the man, it all started when he shaved his head as part of an event to get four free tickets to a Giants game on June 6, 1998.

The man, who had just moved to South San Francisco, had drawn a bullseye on his forehead, hoping to encourage Ken Griffey Jr of the Seattle Mariners to hit a homerun.

After becoming unruly at the game, the man’s cousin was detained by police and taken away.

The man said he had gone to get his cousin’s car keys when an officer grabbed him and told him to go back to his seat.

The man said the officer “fell backward” after he pulled away from his grip, but police said the man violently pushed the officer into a cement pillar and attempted to grab his gun. The officer was bloodied and injured in the fall.

Police then allegedly slammed the man’s head into a handrail and pushed him into a fence, scraping his face on the stairs.

Officers including Furminger then brought him to a substation at the ballpark where the injured officer’s partner allegedly choked him.

A witness, who was being held for possession of marijuana, said he “started hearing a whole bunch of noises.”

“There’s like a little peek hole that we saw from, and there’s just a lot of pushing and shoving, a lot of yelling,” he told an investigator. “The cops saying stuff like, ‘You like to hit cops?’ and this and that.”

The witness said the man appeared to be drunk and may have been giving police a hard time.

While the witness said he saw an officer push the man against a wall and take him to the ground, the witness said he did not see police bang the man’s head against a wall as the man stated.

Furminger later told investigators he did not recall the man banging his head on anything.

“If it was a big deal, I would have remembered it,” Furminger said.

The man claimed Sgt. Edward Cheung and officers James Acevedo and Furminger assaulted him, but the OCC did not sustain the findings.

The OCC found that two of the officers had done a “leg sweep” to prevent the man from further injuring himself, although Furminger and Cheung denied doing so in their interviews.

The man said he suffered injuries to his eye during the incident including a hole in his retina, which had a chance of detaching.

“The cause of the injuries sustained by complainant could not be conclusively attributed to any force used inside the substation, for he was physically subdued with the aid of bystanders before he was taken to the substation,” the OCC concluded.

After the alleged ballpark assault, the man was taken to Bayview Station where he said several officers choked him while he was handcuffed to a bench.

“‘You piece of shit you like to hurt cops, you punk,’” one officer said, according to the man.

The man told an investigator that “word had gotten out in the station that I had injured one of theirs and more beatings proceeded.”

The same witness from the ballpark was also taken to Bayview Station and told an investigator he saw an officer choke the man on the bench because the man would not stop yelling.

“’You like to talk [mess],’” the officer said, according to the witness. “‘You think you’re a big guy?’”

The witness said the officer “put his hand around his neck and kind of held him against, held him like against the wall.”

But the witness said he thought the officer was trying to scare the man, not hurt him.

The OCC does not appear to have been able to identify that officer.

“The complainant could not positively identify the officer and the independent witness did not respond to multiple requests by OCC for a follow-up interview,” the OCC said in its findings.

The man described the officer as being tall with red hair.

Furminger, who is tall but did not have red hair, denied being at Bayview Station that day.

The OCC did not sustain allegations Furminger for assaulting or threatening the man at Bayview Station.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the charges of which Ian Furminger was convicted.

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