San Francisco Cops' Racist, Homophobic Texts Force Review of Hundreds of Criminal Cases

A police car is parked on the arrivals level outside the international terminal of San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.
A police car is parked on the arrivals level outside the international terminal of San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday, March 22, 2016.Credit: AP

Five more San Francisco police officers have been found to be exchanging racist and homophobic text messages with one another, forcing a review of hundreds of criminal cases that may be compromised by their bias, the city's chief prosecutor said on Thursday. 

The disclosure by District Attorney George Gascon came a year after 14 other members of the San Francisco Police Department were caught up in a similar texting scandal. 

The latest inquiry surfaced amid heightened scrutiny of police encounters with members of minority groups following numerous high-profile killings of unarmed black people by police across the United States since mid-2014. 

Gascon said he recommended in a letter on Wednesday to city Police Chief Gregory Suhr that the five newly implicated officers be assigned to desk duty to avoid adding to the potential caseloads tainted by personal bias exposed in their text messages. 

The dozens of racist and anti-gay texts were unearthed in a review of 5,000 pages of material turned over by police in an unrelated investigation, Gascon said in a telephone interview. 

With some 20,000 additional pages still to be examined, Gascon said more officers may be implicated. 

"While the majority of San Francisco Police Department officers are hardworking men and women who serve with distinction, we cannot have this kind of conduct within the criminal justice system," he said. 

Prosecutors have a duty to bring the bigoted texts to the attention of defense lawyers whose clients were charged in cases that were handled by the five officers and where discrimination on the basis of race or sexual orientation could be at issue, Gascon said. 

"They provide evidence of racial bias, which is impeachable evidence to the prosecution," he added. 

The president of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association union, Martin Halloran, condemned "the appalling racist behavior committed by a handful of officers," in a statement quoted by news media. 

The conduct in question ran from 2014 to late 2015, overlapping with the time frame of last year's police texting scandal, although Gascon said there was no apparent connection between the two. 

The police department sought to fire seven of the original group of 14 officers, but a judge ruled against the dismissals, citing the statute of limitations. 

The previous scandal resulted in a review of 4,000 cases, including 1,600 in which charges were brought, with 13 dismissals so far, city prosecutors said.