San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said today that he anticipates an internal investigation into police officers who allegedly exchanged offensive text messages expressing racist and homophobic views will be completed by the end of the week resulting in individuals being recommended to the San Francisco Police Commission for termination while others will receive suspensions.
The allegations that San Francisco police officers exchanged inappropriate text messages displaying their bias views, coupled with allegations that San Francisco sheriff’s deputies forced jail inmates to fight “gladiator-style” while betting on outcomes and the most recent announcement that irregularities have been discovered at the Police Department’s DNA lab, spurred San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon to announce today that he has created a task force to investigate these cases involving law enforcement officials.
Gascon urged anyone with information about the cases to reach out to his office as they are launching independent investigations into all the allegations.
Regarding the offensive text messages that were recently released in federal court documents, Suhr said today, “There is no place for that in the San Francisco Police Department.”
Gascon said he wants to know if other people were involved and to see if any prosecutions could be impacted.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said it is possible that 1,000 criminal cases touched by those officers in the last 10 years could be impacted.
Police spokesman Albie Esparza confirmed that four police officers were reassigned last month to jobs in which they have no contact with the public during a department probe of the text messages, which were sent to and from disgraced former Sgt. Ian Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012.
The messages were discovered by the FBI in an investigation of thefts by Furminger and two other officers of money and property seized from suspects in 2009.
“We will have to assess whether there is anybody in custody today who perhaps shouldn’t be in custody” and if anybody who was convicted shouldn’t have been convicted, Gascon said.
Regarding the protocol breach at the police department’s DNA lab, Suhr said this afternoon that a criminalist had failed a proficiency test, which was brought to the department’s attention in August.
The Police Department notified the District Attorney’s Office of the criminalists’ failure, which resulted in the discovery of her failure to properly follow protocol when uploading information into the federal government’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS.
Suhr said his office is now looking at all the profiles that the criminalist worked on. He said both the criminalist and her supervisor have both been on unrelated personal leave and have not been working in the DNA lab since August.
Suhr said the DNA lab “irregularities” involve inaccurate measurements that stemmed from the criminalists’ failure to follow DNA lab protocol and that he doesn’t believe it was done in malice, however, that remains under investigation.
Suhr said, in aggregate, roughly 1,400 cases were touched by the criminalist and her supervisor and will need to be reviewed for errors. He said the DNA lab is now undergoing an audit.
Gascon said today that the discovery of problems in the DNA lab could impact cases involving murders and sexual assaults.
“This is very, very troubling to me,” Gascon said.
Gascon, who served as the San Francisco police chief until January 2011, previously had to close down the department’s DNA lab in 2010 when a former police crime lab employee allegedly pilfered drug evidence, prompting the dismissal of hundreds of prosecutions.
Regarding the “gladiator-style” fights reported this month at the San Francisco County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, Gascon said that it is unlikely only four deputies knew about the alleged abuse and misconduct.
San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said his office will not tolerate such behavior from deputies and that he invites the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in the investigation.
Mirkarimi said the four deputies named in the allegations have been placed on administrative leave.
Gascon said he wants to know who else knew about the alleged fights, when they knew and if there have been similar cases of misconduct at the Sheriff’s Department.
Gascon, who is the top law enforcement official in the city, said because of the “depth and scope” of these allegations, his office has put together a task force with three teams focusing on the separate allegations against law enforcement officials in San Francisco.
He said the task force has been created to thoroughly look at all allegations and look for any other misconduct.
He said he is the “guardian of the criminal justice” system in San Francisco and that while he believes most law enforcement officials are “good people trying to do the right thing,” recent allegations suggest that there are major problems within the police and sheriff’s departments that need to be thoroughly investigated.
He said that during his more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has seen a great deal of misconduct and scandals involving law enforcement officials, but that the frequency and magnitude of these recent allegations are “unusual” and “repulsive,” as well as some of the worst allegations he has heard.
Gascon said he is concerned that if these allegations are determined to be true, there could be serious potential repercussions for criminal cases, including cases that may have been prosecuted years ago.
Gascon said that these alleged incidents are concerning not only because of “the level of hate that is reflected” but because of “the impact they may have on the criminal justice system.”
He said his office, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, will be taking a second look at cases from the past 10 years involving officers and deputies named in recent allegations.
“I want to make sure that people in this community feel very comfortable that the law enforcement in this community is clean,” Gascon said.
Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News