New racist text message scandal triggers review of 200+ criminal cases


The latest racist text scandal involving four San Francisco police officers, including one who now faces criminal charges, could affect more than 200 criminal cases, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said April 26.

The messages, which were made public by District Attorney George Gascon late last month, emerged during a police department investigation into sexual assault allegations made against former Officer Jason Lai in August last year.

The investigation found insufficient evidence to charge Lai with sexual assault but he was instead charged with two misdemeanor counts of misuse of criminal history information and four counts of misuse of confidential Department of Motor Vehicles information.

Adachi said his department was reviewing a total of 207 cases involving the four officers, including Lai.

Lai’s text messages, many of which were released April 26 by the public defender’s office, are peppered with racial slurs and derogatory references to blacks, Latinos, Indians, Muslims and gay, lesbian and transgender people.

“I hate that beaner. But I think the nig is worse,” one message on July 30, 2015 read.

“Indian people are disgusting,” he said on Nov. 23, 2014.

“They’re like a pack if (sic) wild animals on the loose,” Lai said in reference to black people on April 27, 2015.

“Bunch of hock gwais shooting each other,” he said on June 8, in reference to an injury shooting. “Hock gwai” is a derogatory Cantonese term for black people.

“Too bad none of them died,” Lai wrote.

Taking place over a period of nearly ten months, from Oct. 30 of 2014 to Aug. 9, 2015, the messages also include references to shooting protestors, describe a rape victim as an “idiot,” talk about wanting to “hook up” someone on false charges and describe a police report as a “story,” which Adachi said raised concerns about his credibility as an officer.

Adachi on April 26 called the messages “chilling” and “callous,” and said they were evidence that a previous scandal involving racist text messages revealed last year was not an isolated incident.

In that case, racist text messages exchanged among a group of officers in 2011 and 2012 were uncovered during a federal criminal investigation. Suhr ultimately moved to fire seven officers in connection with those messages, but the terminations were overturned by a court ruling in December after a judge found the department had waited too long to act.

Adachi said the messages dehumanized people and were evidence that the department needed a change of culture, including racial bias training and a push to get other officers to report racist behavior. He noted that recent studies have found pervasive racial bias in policing in San Francisco and referenced recent police shootings involving black or Latino men.

“He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in,” Adachi said.

Police Chief Greg Suhr on April 26 said that the department had acted quickly to initiate criminal charges in Lai’s case and disciplinary proceedings in the case of the three other officers who had engaged in equally “reprehensible” texts. He noted that three of the officers, including Lai, have since voluntarily left the department, while a fourth faces discipline before the police commission including possible termination.

Another three officers who had each received a single questionable text message from Lai but had not sent any themselves were not disciplined due to insufficient evidence, he said.

“There is no room in the San Francisco Police Department for anyone who holds these types of hateful and discriminatory views,” Suhr said. “It is clearly incompatible with the character required to be a police officer.”

Suhr said he had a “visceral reaction” to reading the messages.

“It literally makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “I apologize to the public, we are better than this, and 99 percent of this department is feeling the same way I am, betrayed by people who were wearing the same uniform.”

In response to Adachi’s calls for a “culture change” at the department, Suhr said that he and other command staff members have undergone training in implicit racial bias and the rest of the department is expected to receive the same training by the end of the year. In addition, officers in January were asked to pledge to turn in other officers guilty of racial intolerance.

“The culture of this department is, you demonstrate yourself to be a racist and a homophobe, you’re not going to be an officer in San Francisco,” Suhr said.

Mayor Ed Lee also condemned the text messages April 26, stating on Twitter that he was “outraged & disappointed” with the “ignorant, hate-filled texts.”

“This will never be tolerated in SF,” he wrote, promising that reforms were underway in the police department.

Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, said that the officers involved had “disgraced our profession and must be held accountable.”

“Our union celebrates representing the most diverse body of police officers in the nation,” Halloran said. “These individuals have no place in our ranks.”

One response to “New racist text message scandal triggers review of 200+ criminal cases”

  1. Kafantaris Avatar

    The only way new management can change attitudes in a business is to fire everybody from the top down. Leaving even one bad apple there could undo your hard work.

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