DA launches probe into law enforcement misconduct

Following separate allegations of misconduct by San Francisco police officers and sheriff’s deputies and irregularities at the Police Department’s DNA lab, District Attorney George Gascon announced Monday that he has created a task force to investigate the cases.

The announcement came after separate accusations that San Francisco sheriff’s deputies forced jail inmates to fight, that police officers were exchanging hateful and racist text messages and that there was a protocol breach at the DNA lab. Gascon urged anyone with information about the cases to reach out to his office.

Gascon, who is the top law enforcement official in The City, said because of the “depth and scope” of these allegations, his office has put together a task force with three teams focusing on the separate allegations against law enforcement officials in San Francisco.

He said he is the “guardian of the criminal justice” system in San Francisco and that while he believes most law enforcement officials are “good people trying to do the right thing,” recent allegations suggest that there are major problems within the police and sheriff’s departments that need to be thoroughly investigated.

He said that during his more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has seen a great deal of misconduct and scandals involving law enforcement officials, but that the frequency and magnitude of these recent allegations are “unusual” and “repulsive,” as well as some of the worst allegations he’s heard.

Gascon said he is concerned that if these allegations are determined to be true, there could be serious potential repercussions for criminal cases, including some which were possibly prosecuted years ago. Gascon said that these alleged incidents are concerning not only because of “the level of hate that is reflected” but because of “the impact they may have on the criminal justice system.”

Gascon said his office, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, will be taking a second look at cases from the past 10 years involving officers and deputies named in recent allegations:

“I want to make sure that people in this community feel very comfortable that the law enforcement in this community is clean.”

He said the task force has been created to thoroughly look at all allegations and look for any other misconduct. He said his office has become aware of a protocol breach at the Police Department’s DNA lab. San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said this afternoon that a criminalist and her supervisor failed to follow protocol at the lab, creating “irregularities” when uploading information onto the federal government’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS.

Suhr said, in aggregate, roughly 1,400 cases were touched by the criminalist and her supervisor and will need to be reviewed for errors. He said the DNA lab is now undergoing an audit. “This is very, very troubling to me,” Gascon said today, explaining that the irregularities at the lab could impact cases involving murders and sexual assaults.

Gascon, who served as the San Francisco police chief until January 2011, previously had to close down the department’s DNA lab in 2010 when a former San Francisco Police Department crime lab employee allegedly pilfered drug evidence, prompting the dismissal of hundreds of prosecutions.

Regarding the gladiator-style fights reported this month at the San Francisco County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, Gascon said that it is unlikely only four deputies knew about the alleged abuse and misconduct. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said his office will not tolerate such behavior from deputies and that he invites the U.S. Department of Justice to assist in the investigation.

Mirkarimi said the four deputies named in the allegations have been placed on administrative leave. Gascon said he wants to know who else knew about the alleged fights, when they knew and if there have been similar cases of misconduct at the sheriff’s department.

Regarding racist and homophobic text messages from police officers that were recently released in federal court documents, Gascon said he wants to know if other people were involved and to see if any prosecutions could be impacted. Police Department spokesman Albie Esparza confirmed that four officers were reassigned last month to jobs in which they have no contact with the public during a department probe of the text messages, which were sent to and from disgraced former Sgt. Ian Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012.

The messages were discovered by the FBI in an investigation of thefts by Furminger and two other officers of money and property seized from suspects in 2009.

“We will have to assess whether there is anybody in custody today who perhaps shouldn’t be in custody” and if anybody who was convicted shouldn’t have been convicted, Gascon said.