A slew of racist and homophobic text messages exchanged between San Francisco police in a fellow officer’s corruption case has forced prosecutors and defense attorneys to review an estimated 1,000 criminal convictions for potential bias, officials announced Tuesday.
The messages were revealed in a motion by the U.S. attorney’s office opposing bail for Ian Furminger, a former San Francisco police officer who was recently sentenced to 41 months in prison on various corruption-related charges and was scheduled to surrender next month pending an appeal.
The texts, sent between 2011 and 2012, allegedly involved four other officers and denigrated minorities and gays.
“In order to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable, my office is conducting an immediate assessment of every prosecution within the past ten years where these officers were involved,” said San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon in a statement.
Public defender Jeff Adachi on Tuesday estimated that could amount to at least 1,000 cases among the five officers. Officials identified more than 120 in just the last two years, he said.
“We pride ourselves on being a progressive city, yet we have active officers who are engaging in not only racist banter, but they were talking about killing people, referring to an African American as a ‘savage,’” Adachi said. “A person does not become a racist overnight. These were officers who in some cases had over a decade of service. We need to look at all of them.”
Officers referred to minorities as “savages,” used the N-word to refer to African Americans and suggested they be spayed like animals, and used an epithet for homosexuals. Other text messages insulted Filipinos and Mexicans.
One text message attributed to Furminger simply said “White Power Family” and then listed his address. The FBI obtained the text messages from Furminger’s phone as part of its investigation into alleged corruption. Furminger, 48, was convicted of stealing from suspects, stealing federal dollars and splitting profits from drug sales with informants. He has filed an appeal.
San Francisco police Sgt. Yulanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice Peace Officers Assn., which represents African American officers as well as women and other minorities, called the revelations “disgraceful.”
“It’s disgusting that in 2015 in San Francisco we would have officers that engage in such hateful despicable text messages. ... No matter how big or small the number [of officers] is, this has managed to bring such hostilities and racism and Ku Klux Klan ideology up to the surface, to the point where all officers feel uncomfortable in our work environments now….They’re fearing the unknown.”
Williams, 59, who in June will have served a quarter century on the force, said the association has been fielding calls from minority as well as some white officers who “feel discomfort… They don’t want us to think they feel this way about those of color or those who don’t happen to look like them.”
Former Officer Harry Soulette, 56, the association officer manager, served 31 years before retiring two years ago. The department has made strides in cleaning house, he said, but more action is clearly needed.
“There aren’t that many of the old guard who back in the day were referred to as the blue coats. They’re history,” he said. “There’s a new guard. But there’s going to be that 1% that are no good, that in my opinion should be fired, should be let go. We work so hard to maintain a good image and these guys just mess it up for everybody else.”
San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has said the officers who sent the text messages should be fired, and Mayor Edwin Lee said he agrees. For now, the four officers – whom the department has not identified – have been reassigned to duties away from working with the community, said SFPD spokesman Albie Esparza.
But Adachi, the public defender, said firing the officers involved doesn’t go far enough. In a news conference Tuesday, he called for the department to institute a 10-point plan to wring out racist and homophobic biases in the department.
Adachi called for officers to receive 24 hours of training so they can be more aware of biases they hold without realizing it and for the department to assign more minority officers to work in their own communities.
“Police possess tremendous power – they decide who to stop, question and arrest and bring to jail,” Adachi said. “We have to look at these cases and how they were affected.”
Romney reported from San Francisco, Serna from Los Angeles.