Nine San Francisco Police Department officers who sent racist and homophobic text messages to each other cannot be fired, a judge ruled Monday, because the one-year statute of limitations on taking action against them had run out.
S.F. County Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith telegraphed his intentions on Friday when he wrote in a tentative ruling, “The one year statute of limitations period for investigating officer misconduct . . . serves to both protect the rights of police officers and to ensure the public’s safety.”
S.F. Police Chief Greg Suhr tried to fire the officers in April, nine months after the text messages became public, but was blocked while the court considered the officer objections. Although the public didn’t find out about the texts until last year, law enforcement knew about them as part of a separate police-corruption investigation for three years.
The department argued that it couldn’t reveal the information at the time without compromising the earlier case, which was directed by federal investigators.
The judge said even if the department had proven that to be the case, and they hadn’t, they still needed to file their complaint by February 25, one year after the case they were concerned about was completed. They missed the deadline by a couple months.
S.F. Deputy City Attorney Kenneth Walczak told KQED the Public Safety Officers Bill of Rights allows for a pause (“tolling”) in the statute of limitations when a related criminal case is under investigation or being prosecuted. The judge said the tolling exception would only have applied if the text messages were a subject of the criminal investigation, which they were not.
The text messages came to light when the Office of Citizen Complaints noticed that federal prosecutors cited them when filing a motion to keep former S.F. police Sergeant Ian Furminger in custody after his conviction in the scandal. He and another officer were convicted of taking money from the homes of drug dealers during arrests. Six officers were indicted in February 2014 for similar activities.
Attorneys for the officers defended the text exchanges as light-hearted bantering between colleagues in a high-pressure job letting off steam. Furminger messaged one officer about concern that the black husband of his wife’s friend was coming to his house. The officer messaged back, “Get ur pocket gun. Keep it available in case the monkey returns to his roots. Its (sic) not against the law to put an animal down.”
“Well said!” Furminger replied. “You may have to kill the half-breeds too,’’ the unnamed officer replied. In another text, Furminger responded to a text asking “Do you celebrate quanza [sic] at your school?” by writing: “Yeah we burn the cross on the field! Then we celebrate Whitemas.” He suggested blacks should be spayed to prevent over-breeding.
The messages slurred women, LGBT people, African-Americans, Filipinos and Mexicans with equal zeal. City officials said they plan to appeal the decision.