By Alex Emslie
The head law enforcement official in San Francisco is bringing in three retired judges from outside the city to investigate arrests by 14 current and former police officers implicated in a bigoted text messaging scandal brought to light two months ago.
District Attorney George Gascón estimates the judges will review about 3,000 arrests — some 1,600 of which were prosecuted. He said he hopes the review will be completed this year.
“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned, that’s one too many,” Gascón said Thursday. “On the other end, if we have someone that actually committed a crime, but that prosecution is compromised because of the credibility of this individual, we have a guilty person that may be released and continue to present a danger to all of us. The impacts both on liberty and victims are similarly unconscionable.”
Gascón said the number of arrests and prosecutions affected is preliminary. He said judges and other members of a task force he announced a month ago will prioritize the 70 or so cases involving people currently in custody. The judges are working autonomously on cases affected by the texting scandal and culture of the police department, Gascón said.
His task force is also investigating the SFPD’s DNA crime lab and the allegations that sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to fight in one of the city’s jails.
A spokesman for the district attorney said prosecutors have so far dismissed eight pending cases involving officers implicated in the text messaging scandal.
The panel of retired judges consists of Cruz Reynoso, LaDoris Cordell and Dickran Tevrizian. Reynoso is a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Cordell was a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge for 19 years and is currently the independent auditor for the San Jose Police Department. Tevrizian was a federal judge in California’s Central District for more than 20 years, retiring in 2007.
“Police officers have to abide by the constitutional protections that are guaranteed to each and every one of us as citizens or residents of this country,” he said. “I feel very strongly about that, and that’s why I agreed to come aboard.”
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr recommended firing seven officers who exchanged texts with former SFPD Sgt. Ian Furminger, who was convicted of federal fraud and conspiracy to violate civil rights charges in December. Furminger was sentenced to three years and five months in prison.
All the texts implicating a total of 14 officers were recovered from Furminger’s phone and made public in a court filing opposing his bail request in March. One officer resigned, and Suhr recommended discipline — up to termination — for two more.
Suhr said that the remaining four officers’ conduct did not rise to the level of the other 10, and he would handle their discipline. In San Francisco, the chief of police can mete out discipline up to a 10-day suspension. Otherwise it is handled by the civilian Police Commission. The 10 cases referred to the commission are pending.
“San Francisco leads national conversations on equality and fairness instead of racism, sexism and homophobia,” Gascón said. “However, as recent revelations have shown, we’re not immune from this epidemic.”
But the Rev. Arnold Townsend, with the San Francisco NAACP, said statements of surprise over the racist text messages underscore a divided consciousness in the city.
“I doubt that there was an African-American in San Francisco that was surprised that we have bias in our police department,” he said. “That’s the amazing disconnect we have.”
The Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco NAACP, applauded the appointment of the judges.
“Pull the cover off this cesspool of injustice and the criminalization of black people,” he said.