Under Fire: San Francisco DA to Probe Multiple Law Enforcement Scandals

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón says his office will conduct independent investigations into multiple scandals involving San Francisco law enforcement agencies. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón says his office will conduct independent investigations into multiple scandals involving San Francisco law enforcement agencies. (Alex Emslie/KQED)

By Alex Emslie
KQED

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón says he is reassigning staff and looking for more funding to investigate three separate scandals involving city law enforcement agencies.

“I find it repulsive,” Gascón told a gathering of reporters at his office today. “In my entire 30-year-plus career in law enforcement, these are some of the worst allegations that I have seen. And I find them extremely troubling, not only because of the incidents, but because of the potential repercussions for involving so many prosecutions.”

Gascón said he’s forming a task force in the district attorney’s office composed of three teams — a team for each of three scandals that broke since mid-March.

The first involved a series of bigoted text messages allegedly swapped between several San Francisco police officers. The text conversations were recovered from former SFPD Sgt. Ian Furminger’s cell phone, according to federal court documents filed March 13, but implicated at least four current SFPD officers, and possibly more. Furminger was convicted on federal fraud and conspiracy charges and sentenced to three years and five months in prison last month. He is appealing his conviction.

A week and a half later, Public Defender Jeff Adachi released a private investigator’s preliminary findings that San Francisco sheriffs’ deputies at one of the city’s jails were threatening and humiliating inmates and forcing two of them to fight for entertainment. Inmates told Adachi and the independent investigator that deputies were betting on the fights.

Four deputies were placed on administrative leave the same day the allegations were made public.

“It’s unlikely that this case was limited to only four people,” Gascón said. “We want to know who else knew, when did they know, have there been other similar cases, are there any other issues going on over there that we should know?”

Then over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that an analyst and supervisor in the city’s crime lab had come under suspicion for submitting potentially shoddy DNA matches in criminal cases. Both the crime lab and SFPD texting scandals could impact hundreds, or thousands, of past and pending criminal prosecutions.

“I don’t know how long this task force is going to last,” Gascón said. “It may be months, it may be years. We’re talking about very complex issues, and frankly we’re only beginning to see the surface. We do not know at this point how deeply the problems run within either organization.”

Adachi said it appears the crime analyst, at least in one case, submitted findings that were helpful to the prosecution, and did not submit findings that would have helped the defense. He said either the state or federal department of justice, and not the district attorney, should investigate the crime lab and police department.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “I don’t think law enforcement should be investigating law enforcement. I have less of a problem investigating the problems in the sheriff’s department, but with the DNA crime lab, and the police, these witnesses are relied upon by the district attorney in seeking their convictions.”

Gascón gave scant details about his newly created task force, declining to state even the number of people assigned. He said he would seek funding from the city’s Board of Supervisors to pay for the investigations.

“I invite members of the public and members of law enforcement to provide information to this office concerning any of these cases or any other allegations of misconduct involving law enforcement personnel in our county,” Gascón said. “San Francisco will have no tolerance for bad behavior or criminal behavior within our law enforcement community, and part of that begins with all of us standing tall and ensuring that these cases and any other cases that may be found are handled appropriately. The public deserves this and I will make sure that we do so.”

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