A California appeals court recently decided in implementing disciplinary actions against San Francisco police officers who sent racist and homophobic text messages in 2012.
Background of the Case
The whole case began when Public Defender Jeff Adach found a surveillance video while defending his various clients. The video seemed to contradict the veracity of police testimony. This video led to a serious investigation of police corruption within the SFPD.
As the police corruption scandal broke, police officer Reynaldo Vargas testified that he and several other police officers regularly grabbed money and property from drug dealers, and to conceal this they did not book the money and items into evidence. In one incident, the money they took totaled up to $30,000.
Six police officers were indicted as a result of the investigation. A Police Sergeant named Ian Furminger was also convicted of 4 felonies at the end of the case in 2015. Judge Charles Breyer sentenced the long-serving officer to 41 months in prison.
Charges Filed for Texts after Statute of Limitations
In the course of the investigation, the investigators found texts sent between 9 officers containing homophobic and racist messages. The Appeals Court has already affirmed that such messages can subject police officers to disciplinary sanctions. However, the state Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights requires that police departments can only file charges within a year after discovering the offensive messages.
The texts resulted in charges against the 9 officers for misconduct. However, former police Chief Greg Suhr did not file disciplinary charges until Furminger’s trial was over in December 2014.
As a result, Officer Rain Daugherty sued the city of San Francisco, claiming that the charges came too late. Former San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith found in favor of Officer Daugherty in December 2015. The trial judge dismissed the case, stating that the charges filed by the police department were too late as they came after the end of the statute of limitations period.
Officers being charged with discipline for sending text messages
The First District Court of disagreed and stated that the SFPD was cooperating with a federal criminal investigation at the time. The cooperation between the police department and the federal authorities turned the investigation more complicated. This made it more difficult to determine when to bring up charges of misconduct against the police officers. This was why they allowed charges to be filed even when the statute of limitations had run out.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera released a statement, which said that his office was content with the ruling. He said that his office is pleased that “police officials do not have to compromise a criminal investigation in order to pursue discipline against officers accused of abhorrent behavior.”
“Forcing public officials to choose between the two would have made a mockery of justice,” Herrera added.