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San Francisco Police Department Embroiled In Another Text Messaging Scandal


There's another scandal involving the San Francisco Police Department, and it's raising questions about the department's leadership. For the second time in just over a year, officers are being accused of sharing racist and homophobic text messages. NPR's Richard Gonzales has details.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: The texts were found on the personal cell phone of former Officer Jason Lai while he was being investigated for rape. That charge didn't stick, but prosecutors discovered dozens of offensive messages denigrating African-Americans, Latinos, Indians, the homeless, gays and lesbians. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi released the texts earlier this week.


JEFF ADACHI: This is Officer Lai's mindset, and it shows a person who very casually makes racist and derogatory comments, talks about injury to the citizens that he is supposed to be serving.

GONZALES: The texts were allegedly shared among Lai and three others officers. Lai and another officer have resigned. A third awaits a disciplinary hearing and is expected to be fired. A fourth, former Lieutenant Curtis Liu, was allowed to retire, but Lui is still facing charges of obstructing the original rape investigation of former Officer Lai. Public Defender Jeff Adachi says his office will review over 200 cases involving the four officers to determine whether possible bias influenced their police work.

Many of the offensive texts came after last year's revelations of a first batch of racist and homophobic messages shared by 14 other officers. That scandal top has jeopardized thousands of prosecutions. Adachi says, together, the two scandals reveal deeper problems in the department about how it treats the public, especially people of color.


ADACHI: You know, I'm calling for a change in culture, and I think that whoever leads that department has to be capable of leading that charge, which means really some wholesale changes.

GONZALES: For his part, Chief Greg Suhr condemned the offensive text messages and said he had suspended all four officers last fall when he first learned about those communications.


GREG SUHR: There is no room in the San Francisco Police Department for anyone who holds these types of hateful and discriminatory views. It is clearly incompatible with the character required of being a police officer.

GONZALES: But the police department is still digging its way out of the first texting scandal. Some of the officers involved in that one are still on the job because a judge ruled that the department moved to fire them too late. Chief Suhr says he is no plans to resign.

Outside a police station in the traditionally-Latino Mission District, a small group of protesters are staging a hunger strike demanding Suhr's resignation or firing. Edwin Lindo, an educational consultant, says he joined the hunger strike last week to protest a recent series of controversial police shootings. Then came this new scandal.

EDWIN LINDO: A culture of text messages that say that a monkey deserve to die when referring to a human being, or that we're animals, that's San Francisco, Calif., the quote-unquote most liberal city in the country.

GONZALES: The police shootings and the texting scandals have generated calls for a federal investigation of the police department. Thus far, the feds have only agreed to conduct what they call a collaborative reform review of department policies. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.