Tucked away at item No. 9 in tonight’s Police Commission agenda are a handful of issues that took years of legal warfare and excoriating nationwide media coverage of San Francisco to achieve.
Naturally, it’s all in closed-door session, but it’s happening: the first disciplinary cases involving the city’s “textgate” scandal are finally coming up. Punishing the officers caught exchanging brutally racist messages is finally a possibility after years of wrangling and multiple judges’ rulings.
These disciplinary items were made possible by a Nov. 20 judicial order lifting the stay on administrative proceedings (like tonight’s) and rescinding an order that had put the offending cops on paid leave.
“Textgate” spun off from a federal 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.
Horrifically racist text messages exchanged between Furminger and 13 other officers in 2011 were collected during this probe. Controversy arose, however, when the officers subsequently claimed the city had sat on its hands long enough that the one-year statute of limitations enshrined in this state’s Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights had expired — and a judge in 2015 agreed.
An Appeals Court judge earlier this year reversed that ruling, however. “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, Judge Martin J. Jenkins wrote, “because, before then, the alleged misconduct was not and could not be discovered by the person[s] authorized to initiate an investigation.”
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The state Supreme Court declined to hear the case, meaning the city was at last clear to do what then-Chief Greg Suhr called for in 2015 — initiate disciplinary proceedings that could lead to terminations.
Some of the officers, however, have not waited around to potentially be fired. On today’s Police Commission agenda is “discussion and possible action to take the following disciplinary cases off the calendar” regarding “IAD 2015-0036,” an officer who retired on Oct. 25 of this year.
Sources have confirmed to Mission Local that this officer is Michael Celis. The San Francisco Police Department also confirmed that Celis did indeed “separate” from SFPD on Oct. 25. At least six other officers ensnared in the scandal have left in the years prior.
The Police Commission tonight may set hearing schedules for three more officers involved in the textgate scandal: “IAD 2015-0076,” “IAD 2015-0084,” and “IAD 2015-0087.”
While the state Procedural Bill of Rights provides anonymity for the accused officers, additional names that have been publicly reported to date include Rain Daughtery, Michael Robison, Michael Wibunsin, Richard Ruiz, Sean Doherty, Angel Lozano, Noel Schwab, and Jason Fox — a captain.