The California Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal in the legal case emanating from San Francisco’s Textgate scandal, clearing the path for the city and its police department to renew disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved.
Today’s move takes the case out of the legal system and puts it back before the city’s Police Commission.
Before the accused officers took the case to court three years ago, that’s where then-Chief Greg Suhr sent their cases, recommending that eight of the officers be fired. Six other officers faced lesser charges, including two cases that went to the Police Commission and four that were handled by Suhr.
“The court made the right decision. Police should not have to compromise a criminal case in order to discipline officers accused of appalling behavior,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera today.
Now, he concluded, “These officers can answer to the Police Commission.”
The text messages — in which a cadre of 14 officers bandied about outrageously bigoted and offensive messages such as “All niggers must fucking hang” — emanated from a federal investigation of the San Francisco Police Department.
Today’s decision brings an end to an effort by the officers ensnared in the scandal to avoid a final hearing before the Police Commission by arguing that the SFPD failed to file cases against them prior to the conclusion of a one-year statute of limitations.
The Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights, (POBR) establishes that one-year statute to complete — yes, complete — an investigation into alleged police misconduct. That’s a perk few, if any, other workers in California benefit from.
A 2015 decision by Judge Ernest Goldsmith sided with the officers, finding that SFPD Internal Affairs became aware of the texts in 2012 — but sat on them until 2014, longer than the one-year statute would permit.
The texts were uncovered during an investigation that concluded with former Mission Station sergeant Ian Furminger being sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in 2015 for leading a ring of out-and-out criminals within the force who robbed and stole from suspects and other powerless people whose words would never be believed over those of a sworn officer of the law.
Herrera appealed Goldsmith’s finding, and a May 2018 ruling by Judge Martin Jenkins of the First Appellate Court reversed it.
Jenkins’ decision took into account that, until the conclusion of the investigation of Furminger and his clique, the text messages could not be released to the proper SFPD internal authorities — meaning the statute of limitations did not start ticking until 2014.
“The one-year statute of limitations did not begin to run until the text messages were released” by the U.S. Attorney’s office to SFPD internal affairs, Jenkins wrote, “because before then, the alleged misconduct was not and could not be discovered by the person[s] authorized to initiate an investigation.”
A number of the offending cops have been on paid leave for the past three years, complete with health benefits, in the city’s literal or figurative rubber room.
Six of them, Chief Bill Scott told Mission Local earlier this year, have already left the department. While the state Procedural Bill of Rights provides anonymity for the accused officers, the names that have been publicly reported to date include Rain Daughtery, Michael Robison, Michael Wibunsin, Richard Ruiz, Sean Doherty, Angel Lozano, Noel Schwab, Michael Celis and Jason Fox — a captain.
“Both the California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal recognized what the law says: SFPD can and should investigate and prosecute corrupt officers before moving on to police misconduct revealed during the investigation,” Herrera said today. “Officers accused of misconduct don’t get a free pass just because their texts came to light during a corruption investigation.”