Racist, homophobic police text messages could lead to criminal cases being thrown out: Adachi

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi estimates as many as 1,000 criminal cases will be reviewed following the racist and homophobic text messages allegedly sent by four San Francisco police officers.

Adachi and his colleagues said March 17 that their office has already identified 120 cases involving two of the four officers and said those cases could get thrown out beginning as early as next week.

District Attorney George Gascon said he was “deeply disturbed by these text messages” and said that “in order to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable,” his office will also be assessing every prosecution in the past 10 years in which the officers participated.

Adachi said its important to go through those cases that the officers touched since the racist statements in the text messages reflect attitudes of hatred that “were not born overnight” and may have impacted their conduct as officers.

Although the four officers who are being investigated were not named by the Police Department, their respective lawyers confirmed their identities are officers Michael Robison, Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty, and Noel Schwab. San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen said March 17 that she is concerned that as many as 10 officers, including a captain, may be associated with the text messages, a sampling of which were released publicly on March 13.

San Francisco Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza said the four officers were reassigned last month to jobs in which they have no contact with the public during a department probe of the messages, which were sent to and from disgraced former Sgt. Ian Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012.

The messages were discovered by the FBI in an investigation of thefts by Furminger and two other officers of money and property seized from suspects in 2009. Furminger was convicted in federal court in San Francisco in December of four felonies related to the scheme and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer last month to three years and five months in prison. Furminger resigned from the force after being convicted.

Some of the messages were made public March 13 by federal prosecutors in a court filing opposing Furminger’s request to Breyer for release on bail while he appeals his conviction. The FBI previously gave the texts privately to the Police Department. In the March 13 filing in the Furminger case, prosecutors alleged the messages show the former sergeant was “a virulent racist and homophobe” and argued the judge should take that into account in deciding whether to grant him release during the appeal.

The prosecution brief indicates which messages Furminger sent and which were sent to him by officers and other people between October 2011 and June 2012, but it does not name the correspondents. It says the examples are “some of the messages” sent during that period.

Many of the examples include references to the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrate support for white power, and insult black people as well as those of various ethnicities.

Dismissing the officers isn’t enough, Adachi said March 17.

Adachi said the issue of bias within the police department goes much deeper and that the department’s culture and training needs to change.

Adachi said he doesn’t know if there are additional messages of this nature or just how many people might be involved in the communications.

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