Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

SFPD probes racist, anti-gay texts

NEWS


s.hemmelgarn@ebar.com

Police Chief Greg Suhr. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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The San Francisco Police Department is investigating four officers for allegedly being involved in exchanges of racist and homophobic text messages.

The texts, most of which are race-related, recently came to light in documents filed Friday, March 13 in the federal court case against former police Sergeant Ian Furminger, who was convicted in December of stealing and other crimes.

The district attorney's and public defender's offices are reviewing cases in which the officers were involved.

According to the court filing, in one October 2011 exchange, Furminger wrote to at least one other officer, "I was trying to be nice to you as everyone knows your gay," and "I love calling you a fag! Good enough?"

In a May 2012 message, he told at least one other officer, "Busted up but that's what happens to fags!" according to the document, which was first reported by KQED.

The next month, in June 2012, Furminger wrote, "Your sister lies more than any [n-word] I have ever met in my life!" That message is the last one included in the filing.

Another officer wrote in a February 2012 exchange, "All [n-word] must fucking hang."

Citing "multiple sources with knowledge of the matter," the San Francisco Chronicle identified the four officers as Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty, Michael Robison, and Noel Schwab. Neither they nor Furminger could be reached directly for comment.

However, Brian Getz, Furminger's attorney, said, "The texts have been taken completely out of context and don't do anything to reflect his feelings about his fellow man."

Getz said the texts represent "banter amongst law enforcement officers out on the street" who were working in some of the "roughest" parts of the city.

The messages "express the opposite feeling" of what Furminger "felt, and therein lies the humor as he saw it in sending those messages." He said the racist, homophobic sentiments expressed in the texts are also contrary to the other officers' true feelings.

At least one of the officers is gay, said Getz, but he wouldn't say which one. Late Tuesday, it was reported that Robison is gay and was once featured on the cover of the Advocate, a gay newsmagazine, in a story about gay police officers.

Everybody who knows Furminger, who once worked in the Castro, knows he's "not racist" and "not a homophobe," said Getz.

"As a general rule," he said, it's true these are things people should never say, "but I think it's one thing to say something in public ... and another to send a private text to your brother officer to alleviate tension and to bond together on the street."

Officers wake up every day knowing they could "die that day," said Getz, and the texts were "making fun of people who are not tolerant," he said.

Federal attorneys' inclusion of the texts, which Getz said didn't make it into the trial record, amount to "bullying" Furminger.

Alison Berry Wilkinson, who's representing Daugherty, said in an email that Daugherty "has served the SFPD with distinction for many years, and has dedicated his life to serving this diverse community in a fair and professional way."

Her client "is appropriately ashamed by his impulsive and insensitive banter, and accepts full responsibility for the content of those text messages that he sent, which are by no means a reflection of his true character or his style of policing," said Wilkinson, who declined to state Daugherty's sexual orientation. 

Attorneys for Celis, Robison, and Schwab didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

In response to emailed questions, Officer Albie Esparza, a police spokesman, said, "We will not be confirming names as this is a personnel matter/investigation. None have been fired or resigned from the department."

Asked about a Chronicle report that indicated more officers are also being examined, Esparza said, "There are only four that are currently being investigated." In the Chronicle story, though, Chief Greg Suhr suggested more officers may be caught up in the probe.

In December, a jury found Furminger, 48, guilty of two counts of honest services fraud, one count of civil rights conspiracy, and one count of conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program, according to the document, which serves as federal attorneys' opposition to Furminger's motion for bail pending appeal.

In February, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison and ordered to surrender to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to begin serving his sentence April 3.

According to a December news release from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag's office, Furminger and former Officer Edmond Robles, who was also convicted in the case, used "their official positions to enrich themselves by stealing money and other valuable items, such as computers, electronic devices, and gift cards that were seized on behalf of" the city "to deprive suspects of due process of law by taking these items without booking them into evidence or including them in their police reports."

 

Reactions

City officials reacted swiftly to the text scandal and pledged quick action.

"There is no place for bigotry in San Francisco. In order to ensure our criminal justice system is fair and equitable, my office is conducting an immediate assessment of every prosecution within the past ten years where these officers were involved," District Attorney George Gasc—n said in a statement issued Monday, March 16. "I have also asked the SFPD for any records they may have that will ensure the assessment is conducted thoroughly."

Public Defender Jeff Adachi said in a news release Tuesday, March 17, that he'd work with Gasc—n on the review.

Adachi, who noted the officers' texts also denigrated Filipinos and Mexicans, stated, "The messages make clear the utter contempt these officers had for the people they were sworn to protect."

Adachi released a 10-point plan designed for more police transparency and protect citizens against bias.

Tamara Barak Aparton, a spokeswoman for Adachi, said in an email, "We're recommending that officers must have a minimum of 24 hours of training in implicit bias and its effects – this would include bias against the LGBT community. Implicit bias is subtle, but it strongly affects who gets pulled over, searched, or arrested, or which witnesses or crime victims are believed. We're also calling for periodic cultural competency training and education throughout officers' careers, which would include training on serving the LGBT community."

San Francisco's Pride Alliance for LGBT officers released a statement Tuesday that says, "The contents of these text messages are a betrayal of everything we believe and a slap in the face to our members, our fellow officers, our department, and this beautiful community of San Francisco that we are called to serve. These messages are sickening and horrifying and leave us disgusted with the people who hid their evil thoughts in our midst. Homophobic, racist, and sexist mindsets are completely out of line with the compassionate heart needed to be a Police Officer. There is no explanation or excuse that the members of Pride Alliance will accept for this conduct."

The city's police officers association issued a news release Monday that says, "While we believe wholeheartedly in due process and affording our members all protection under the law, and we understand that we are all prone to indiscretions in text messages, all these racist and homophobic text messages, if true, are disgraceful and humiliating to the community we serve."

The group said it "fully" understands Suhr's "decision to reassign these officers and ensure that there is no interaction with the public during this full-scale investigation."

 






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