Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018
 

Suhr recommends firing for more officers involved in racist, anti-gay texts

Police Chief Greg Suhr. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Police Chief Greg Suhr. Photo: Rick Gerharter

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr announced today (Friday, April 3) that he’s recommending to the city’s police commission that eight officers should be fired for allegedly exchanging racist and homophobic text messages. One of the officers already quit, and Suhr anticipated another would resign today.

Fourteen officers were the target of a police investigation spawned by the federal case against former Sergeant Ian Furminger. A motion filed in that case in March revealed that Furminger and other officers had sent texts in 2011 and 2012 using the n-word, “fag,” and other derogatory terms.

At a news conference today to announce the investigation’s completion, Suhr said it “makes me sick to even talk about” the text messages, and he’s “disgusted.”

The eight officers’ exchanges showed “such extreme bias” that Suhr “believes their conduct is incompatible with the duties of a police officer. These officers’ text messages are of such despicable thinking that those responsible clearly fall below the minimum standards required to be a police officer,” police said in a news release today. The officers have already been suspended.

Furminger, who was convicted in December of stealing and other crimes, left the department not long after his conviction, and he’s not one of the eight officers.

Officer Michael Robison, the officer allegedly involved in the text exchanges who’s already resigned, is gay. Robison hasn’t responded to the Bay Area Reporter’s interview requests.

Two other officers were involved in “single texting that included inflammatory texts which did not rise to the level of the other eight officers,” police said. The two officers’ explanations “should be heard by the police commission.”

“If you read the text messages” of the two officers, “it’s not even close,” Suhr said.

The two have been reassigned to positions where they don’t have contact with the public. Their cases have been forwarded to the commission, which may decide to terminate them.

Four other officers took part in single texting events with Furminger that violated department policy, but not in a way that involved hate speech.

“Their conduct was also inappropriate, but it was not determined to be racist or homophobic,” Suhr said.

Their actions included failing to tell anyone about Furminger’s messages and responding to the former sergeant “in a manner unbecoming an officer,” police said.

Suhr will discipline these remaining officers. He can suspend them without pay for up to 10 days.

“There is no place in the San Francisco Police Department – and shouldn’t be in any police department – for a dishonest cop,” Suhr stated. “There is also no place in the SFPD for any officer capable of the thinking expressed in these hateful text messages. The officers responsible for the reprehensible texts should be separated from the SFPD as soon as practical. The fine, right-minded men and women of the SFPD that are of the impeccable character required of a Guardian (police officer) expect no less.”

The 14 officers included a captain and “at least one sergeant,” Suhr told reporters today. The captain isn’t in charge of any of the city’s district stations, he said.

Police said that in late January, “the FBI provided volumes of documents, including the text messages,” to the police department and the Office of Citizen Complaints.

“We poured over some 30,000 pages,” Suhr said. “… We canvassed every single piece of paper for text messages.” Still, he said, the investigation revealed involvement by only the 14 officers.

Suhr added that his agency would examine the 14 officers’ personal background questionnaires to see if there’s a common thread that could have indicated problems, and his staff will then do a random sampling of other current officers’ questionnaires.

“We cannot have this in San Francsico,” he said, adding, “We have to do everything” possible “to root out” such problems.

The community’s trust is “critical” for police to do their job, he said.

Suhr said he wouldn’t rule out more training to guard against bias.

In a press release following Suhr’s news conference, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said “Chief Greg Suhr’s recommendation to terminate officers accused of sending racist and homophobic text messages is a step in the right direction, and I strongly encourage the Police Commission follow suit.”

Adachi called references to the “hateful” texts “as innocent banter is dead wrong. This casual dehumanization leads to real life suffering and injustice. It foments a toxic environment in which citizens fear and distrust the police, brutality reigns, and good officers are less effective.”

The public defender said Suhr and the police commission should make all officers undergo “at least 25 hours in racial bias training.”

He said police officials should also “institute a policy requiring officers who witness a colleague engaging in racial bias to report it to their superior officers or face discipline. Training and reinforcement is the only way to ensure that racial bias by police does not harm our citizenry.”

In a follow-up email, Tamara Aparton, Adachi’s spokeswoman, said the training the public defender is suggesting “would be training on recognizing and combatting both conscious and unconscious bias – that includes race and LGBT.”

Suhr said his agency is looking at cases in which the officers were involved, and Adachi and District Attorney George Gascon have said they’re doing the same.

“We look forward to reviewing all the cases and reports made by the officers involved in sending or responding to the racist texts,” Adachi said. “We expect that this will significantly widen our investigation beyond the 1,000 estimated cases that must be reviewed.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, April 3, 2015 @ 4:32 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


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