An internal investigation has revealed that a number of San Francisco Police Department officers texted racist and homophobic messages to each other—again.
The texts were uncovered during a criminal investigation into Officer Jason Lai over an alleged sexual assault. DA George Gascón told NBC Bay Area that his office learned about the messages last week, and sent a letter to San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr about it on Wednesday. The New York Times reports that dozens of texts were exchanged in recent months.
Gascón said five people, including Lai but not including any of the officers involved in last year's scandal, were identified as having sent the messages. Gascón said that the texts "have very explicit racist overtones, the N-word is used pretty regularly," adding, "there’s also comments related to the LBT community.”
The messages were apparently poking fun at those who were offended by the earlier text message scandal, when 14 members of the SFPD were found to have exchanged racist and homophobic texts.
The DA and the SFPD disagree on some points. The DA pointed to five officers, while the SFPD said in a statement that only four sent troubling messages this time around. The SFPD added that it was made aware of the texts soon after they were sent, and that the four officers had been suspended. The department also noted that three additional officers had each received one inappropriate text from Lai, but were not suspended because they didn't respond to the messages.
The DA said that though the SFPD may have acted immediately, his office never heard from them.
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According to Gascón, the new discovery suggests that racism in the SFPD is a deeper problem than investigators thought. "The behavior occurred before, during, and after last year’s text message scandal,” Gascón told NBC Bay Area, adding, “So obviously these officers felt very comfortable using this type of language… even during the time when everybody was sort of reeling from last year’s scandal.” He concluded that "no one can say with a straight face now with these new text message that they are isolated."
City Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his team will "begin a full review of past cases that may have been tainted by these officers," adding, "I am also calling for an independent investigation into when the police chief and district attorney learned of the text messages."
Suhr doesn't see the problem as endemic. "Certainly to have officers like this among fine men and women in the department is disconcerting, but we will root them out," he told The New York Times.
The news comes during a federal investigation into the SFPD's training and practices.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.