State Supreme Court rules disciplinary action can move forward in SFPD bigoted texting scandal

SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) The California Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for disciplinary charges to proceed against nine San Francisco police officers accused of sending racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic text messages  in 2011 and 2012.

The court declined without comment to grant the nine officers' appeal for review of a state Court of Appeal ruling that allowed the San Francisco police chief to pursue the charges before the city's Police 

The state high court's denial of a hearing, issued at its San Francisco headquarters, leaves the May 30 Court of Appeal ruling as the final decision in the case.

The text messages between former Sgt. Ian Furminger and the nine officers were discovered in 2012 during the federal prosecution of Furminger on charges related to the theft of money and property from drug suspects. Furminger was convicted of four counts in federal court on Dec. 5, 2014. 

The existence of the messages became publicly known and caused an outcry when federal prosecutors included examples of some of them in a brief in March 2015 opposing Furminger's bid for bail during his appeal. The messages included references to "half-breed kids," a "monkey" and "white power." 

Then-Chief Greg Suhr filed the disciplinary charges with the commission in April 2015, saying that he recommended firing seven officers and lesser discipline against two others.

The officers -- including Rain Daugherty and eight others who chose to remain anonymous -- claimed in a lawsuit that the chief's action violated one-year deadline in a state law.

The law, entitled the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, requires disciplinary charges to be filed within one year of the appropriate investigators' discovery of the alleged misconduct.

A Superior Court judge agreed with the officers, but the Court of Appeal overturned that ruling and reinstated the charges.

The appeals court said the statute of limitations wasn't violated because the administrative unit of the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division didn't receive the messages from federal prosecutors until Dec. 8, 2014, soon after Furminger was convicted. The administrative unit investigates misconduct allegations. 

Although investigators from the division's criminal unit aided federal prosecutors, they were sworn to secrecy and walled off from the administrative unit, the appeals court said.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "The court made the right decision. Police should not have to compromise a criminal case in order to discipline officers accused of appalling behavior, like these text messages revealing prejudice against the very communities our officers are sworn to protect."

"Now these officers can answer to the Police Commission," Herrera said.

Michael Rains, a lawyer for one of the anonymous officers, said, "This is a bad decision legally, and from a pragmatic and public policy perspective.

Rains said the now-final Court of Appeal ruling "will permit police and sheriffs' departments to play word games in order to drag out internal affairs investigations of police for more than a year before 
concluding them. 

"The public doesn't want their cops responding to life and death situations while they are preoccupied with an investigation that has dragged on for months or years, and may result in loss of their livelihood," the attorney said.