SF police chief urges firings in texting scandal

San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr said Friday that following an internal investigation he is recommending that seven of 14 police officers who were discovered to have partaken in inappropriate, and often racist and homophobic text messages, be fired from the police department.

So far, one of the 14 officers has already resigned and other may follow suit, according to police.

The internal investigation comes following the conviction in federal court of disgraced former San Francisco police Sgt. Ian Furminger, who resigned from the police department after being convicted in December of four felonies in a scheme to steal money and property seized from drug suspects.

San Francisco police were walled off from the federal investigation and prohibited, by federal protective order, from accessing the information until the conclusion of the criminal trial.

In late January, following the December convictions of Furminger and Reynaldo Vargas, the FBI provided San Francisco police and the Office of Citizen Complaints volumes of documents, including the text messages, allowing them to begin an internal investigation.

The existence of the allegedly racist and homophobic messages, which were sent to and from Furminger’s personal cellphone in 2011 and 2012, was made public in a brief filed by federal prosecutors in the case against Furminger last month.

Following the filing of the brief, four officers were found to have engaged with Furminger in these homophobic and racist texts.

While the police department did not name the officers, their lawyers confirmed their identities as Michael Robison, Michael Celis, Rain Daugherty and Noel Schwab.

During the internal probe, those four officers were reassigned to work in which they did not have contact with the public, police said.

According to police, Robison resigned from the department last month and was one of the eight of the 14 members of the police department determined to have been “engaged in text messages of such extreme bias,” to lead Suhr to believe that their conduct is “incompatible with the duties of a police officer.”

While all 14 officers, including Robison, were determined to have engaged in text messages that violated department policy to varying degrees, Suhr said he recommended the San Francisco Police Commission terminate the employment of seven. Robison would have been the eighth had he not resigned.

One of the seven is a captain in the San Francisco Police Department, Suhr said. Suhr said the behavior of those eight individuals is “reprehensible,” “disgusting” and that they “are not junior officers.”

He said he believes that there may be past cases that these individuals touched while working for the department that may be jeopardized.

San Francisco police Officer Albie Esparza said that because this is a personnel matter, Suhr couldn’t release the identity of officers involved who are still employed by the department.

After conferring with Joyce Hicks, director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, Suhr announced Friday that the seven officers have been suspended, and their cases have been forwarded to the Police Commission with the singular recommendation of termination.

Suhr said two of the other officers participated in single texting events that included inflammatory texts but that those messages did not rise to the level of the other eight officers. Suhr said these two officers offered explanations that he is recommending to be heard by the Police Commission.

He said they have been reassigned to non-public contact positions and that their cases have been forwarded to the Police Commission, with the recommendation of discipline, which could include termination.

Four other officers were determined to have engaged in single texting events with Furminger that did not involve hateful speech, but were determined to be violations of department policy.

Examples of that include: leaving an assigned area of responsibility, failure to notify anyone of Furminger’s messages, and dismissively responding to Furminger in a manner unbecoming an officer.

These officers will be disciplined by Suhr, who can suspend officers without pay for up to 10 days, according to police.

Furminger was named in the federal probe along with former officers Vargas and Edmond Robles. Furminger is to begin serving a prison sentence of three years and five months Friday, according to the police department.

Robles was also convicted by a jury in December for conspiracy to violate civil rights, two counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program (namely, the Police Department) and theft. He was ordered to begin serving his prison term of three years and five months on May 1.

Two weeks before the December trial Vargas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute drugs, distribution of marijuana, conspiracy to commit theft, and theft and testified against his former colleagues. Vargas is due to be sentenced on May 6.

Suhr said in light of this recent misconduct uncovered in the police department, the police administration will reexamine their hiring process to ensure additional biased officers do not enter the force.

The department will also randomly search officers’ files for bias and expand officer training on bias behavior.

Suhr said the cases touched by the officers are being referred to the District Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office to determine if these officers were unfit to testify because of an undue bias.

Suhr said Friday he has “no idea” how many cases theses officers might have been involved in.