Ian Furminger (photo: Liz Hafalia, San Francisco Chronicle)
Skeptical of claims that racist and homophobic texts between San Francisco police officers were just good-natured bantering, District Attorney George Gascon is reviewing 3,000 cases over the past 10 years to see if prejudice played a role.
Three retired judges from other jurisdictions, including former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, will review cases handled by 14 officers. Around 1,600 of the arrests reportedly resulted in prosecutions.
The text scandal is not an isolated incident and, in fact, grew out of another scandal involving officers allegedly taking money from the homes of drug dealers during arrests. When one of the officers, Sergeant Ian Furminger, sought release on bail while he appealed his three-year federal prison conviction, the U.S. Attorney’s Office argued against it by citing some of his text exchanges with colleagues.
Furminger once responded to an inquiry about whether they celebrate Kwanzaa at his child’s school, he responded, “Yeah we burn a cross on the field! Then we celebrate Whitemas.” Another time, he texted that the husband of his wife’s friend was a black attorney and asked, “Should I be worried?” The officer responded, “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.”
Furminger and his friends had equally amusing things to say about Hispanics, gays and Asians. Prosecutors showed dozens of them at a press conference last week.
“My best friends and closest friends are all black, gay, Chinese or Asian, and Hispanic. That’s who I socialize with. That’s who I spend my time with. . . . Those texts are not a reflection of who I am. It’s a rebound reaction to a politically correct environment.”
Just in case the attitudes expressed in texts are actually reflected in police work, the D.A. added the 10-year review to his already-established task force looking into other police proclivities, including faulty DNA testing at the crime lab and staged inmate fighting (with wagering) in jail. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi called it a “systemic problem.”
The task force will also report on whether a “culture of bias” exists in the department. A report is expected by the end of the year.
Police Chief Greg Suhr has recommended that the Police Commission fire six of the 14 officers. The D.A. announced on Friday that eight criminal cases have already been dismissed because of the texts.