San Francisco Police Department headquarters. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

A Facebook post apparently published by a San Francisco Police Department investigator is renewing concerns about bias and the department’s role in weeding it out.  

The post, which appears to come from SFPD Investigator Ernie Ferrando’s personal Facebook account, includes a meme mocking Brittney Griner, a professional basketball player who was recently sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison after authorities there purportedly found marijuana vape canisters in her luggage. Griner, who is Black and a lesbian, reportedly has a medical prescription for cannabis and is appealing the sentence. 

In one half of the meme, labeled “How it started,” Griner is in her uniform, with a 2020 quote questioning whether the national anthem should be played before games. In the second half, labeled “How it’s going,” Griner is pictured behind prison bars, with a speech bubble next to her mouth of Star Spangled Banner lyrics. Mission Local obtained a copy of the post. 

Reached by phone, Ferrando said he didn’t remember the Facebook post. However, he did not deny making it.  

Ferrando added that he was advised by the SFPD’s media liaison not to speak with Mission Local.

But he kept talking. 

“I guess the First Amendment doesn’t apply, but whatever,” Ferrando said. “I don’t know why it’s me — so much stuff is on Facebook — why all of a sudden I’ve been targeted.” 

A Facebook post shared by Ernie Ferrando’s Facebook account.

Though Ferrando did not opine on the meme in the original post, his Facebook friend Jim Pera, a retired SFPD veteran, did. “She can rot over there forever as far as I’m concerned,” wrote Pera in a comment. 

Comments on a Facebook post about Brittney Griner.

And then Ferrando chimed back in: “Absolutely !!!! 🇺🇸” 

Ferrando, a 33-year SFPD veteran and former member of the Gang Task Force, retired as a lieutenant in 2010, but returned in 2013 as a part-time employee doing background investigations on new police officers.  

“Oh my God,” said Police Commissioner Jesús Gabriel Yáñez upon learning of the post. When hearing Ferrando’s affirmation: “Oh wow.” 

Pera, who suggested Griner should “rot,” is the author of the novel “The Rampage of Ryan O’Hara,” in which a former army man travels cross-country, killing members of a Marxist organization who murdered a San Francisco police sergeant. The premise is reportedly based on a 1970 bombing suspected to be by the Weather Underground, to which Pera arrived on scene first. 

SFPD spokesperson Sgt. Adam Lobsinger told Mission Local Thursday evening that the Internal Affairs Division had opened an investigation into Ferrando’s post.

“While the views expressed by Ernest Ferrando on his personal social media account do not reflect those of the San Francisco Police Department, we respect his right to express his opinion,” wrote Lobsinger in a statement. Chief Bill Scott did not return messages from Mission Local, but this story will be updated if he does. 

While the First Amendment protects Ferrando’s right to free speech, it does not mandate that the SFPD, or any employer, tolerate that speech — and Ferrando’s conduct may be in violation of the police department’s policies. Yáñez said Ferrando’s post goes against the department’s code of conduct, a general order that says employees on and off duty “shall treat the public with courtesy and respect and not use harsh, profane or uncivil language.” 

And the department’s policy on “Personal Use of Social Media” tells members to “exercise good judgment and carefully consider how their use of social media might impact the performance of their official duties.” Such duties are “best accomplished when all members conduct themselves in a professional, law-abiding, respectful and courteous manner,” the policy continues. 

“Just the sentiment behind it is despicable, honestly,” Yáñez said. “There are more than just undertones of bias and racism.” 

Even just in jest, Yáñez continued, no one employed by the police department should say those things. 

“There’s nothing wrong with a police officer agreeing that somebody should go to jail,” said former Police Commissioner Bill Ong Hing, who called the comment “in bad taste,” but not necessarily a code of conduct violation. 

But the mocking in the meme could show a lack of professionalism, Hing said. “They swear to, at all times, fulfill their job responsibilities in a professional manner and so — and this is just me — I certainly would investigate further because, on the face of it, it’s not representative of professional behavior for a person to be mocking somebody like that.” 

“There is no off-duty comment,” said Yulanda Williams, a recently retired acting SFPD captain and current president of Officers for Justice. “He showed a complete lack of sensitivity, a complete lack of understanding of the next generation” who he’s meant to hire. As the first point of contact for incoming officers, Williams said, Ferrando and others doing background investigations are role models and must set an example.

“We’re supposed to be in the age of reform, we’re supposed to be a little bit more understanding,” Williams said. “What if one of the people who applied to the police department were to see this? What opinion would they have of him?” 

The SFPD has found troubling language used by its members in the past. In 2015, racist text messages sent among SFPD police officers came to light, kicking off a series of reforms in the department.

But still today, the SFPD doesn’t check employees’ personal social media accounts or personal cell phones for professionalism or evidence of bias. The idea has been suggested during Police Commission meetings, and even by the state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board. 

Police Commissioner Debra Walker declined to comment on the Facebook post, but said that the SFPD’s current social media policy is insufficient and doesn’t allow for appropriate review by the Police Commission. 

“I know that we don’t have adequate policy [even though] it’s what the reforms are suggesting, and I’m very supportive of forwarding policy around this,” Walker said. 

Yáñez mentioned that he had raised the question at the Police Commission about periodically checking officers’ social media posts, since the SFPD’s policy dictates the same code of conduct whether on or off duty. 

“If we’re serious as a department about really addressing the root causes of the disproportionate impacts of policing on our communities of color,” Yáñez continued, “we need to be looking at people’s behavior outside of the department, outside of their official duties.” 

So far, Yáñez said he’s been met with resistance in trying to get such oversight off the ground.

Update, 9 p.m.: The SFPD originally declined to comment on Ferrando’s social media post. This story has been updated with the department’s updated statement.


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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Why is it that as soon as any white person says anything negative about a non-white person, the allegations of racism immediately start flying? That black dude with a girl’s name in Memphis just killed that white lady, but no mention of racism or hate crimes. I guess skin color really does matter, so long as the bad guy is white…

  2. This is absolutely ridiculous. A total non-issue. He can have any opinion he wants. It’s his personal FB page! If he posted something disparaging Trump they wouldn’t say a squat and I’m not even a trump fan. Total hypocrisy and alarmism. Bias?? It’s just not the bias THEY prefer. That’s it. hahaha

  3. I’m thinking your obvious concern that a person involved with law enforcement should be less controversial is sincere. But I must have missed your article on the learning opportunities for our younger generation. Maybe suggest they don’t violate laws, here or abroad. They just might be held accountable. Also you could use the meme example which so incited your ire as an example. Some others may feel she is not being held accountable-as many of your writings accuse the LEO community of not being? Finally, I doubt you care but some of us served in wars we would have rather avoided and lost friends we would rather have not lost at such a young age and in such a horrible manner. The National Anthem and our flag is a salve for those (still open) wounds. She doesn’t care. So I don’t care to bring her home.

  4. He responded to another meme and then Ferrando chimed back in: “Absolutely !!!! 🇺🇸” Reporter revenge??

  5. Griner is a total moron and deserves prison on stupidity alone. Hasn’t learned much in thirty one years on this earth. What’s next tour of Iran?

  6. So lessee here, Ferrando has a prized and lucrative Prop F job doing background checks on potential members of SFPD. He makes public biased comments regarding someone going to prison in Russia? What if it was his kid who messed up instead of a member of the LGBT community? Oh, wait, he’s got a 1st amendment right to make any sort of nasty comment? How is that possible? Does a Prop F employee of PD not have to follow the SF Civil Service Rules? Since when does an employee anywhere have the right to yap like that anywhere? Is he still not an employee of the SFPD? Internal Affairs investigates his behavior as a “civilian,” right? If they fail to discipline his for such behavior, don’t we all want to go work there, because hey, work anywhere else and you lose your job, but not @SFPD, right? There, you can text, compute and dirty talk all you want and nothing happens.

    1. “What if it was his kid who messed up instead of a member of the LGBT community?” Good lord why do you even have to add that part in? What does her being lesbian even have to do with it?? LOL I may not agree with what he posted but it’s his right.

  7. Can anyone who wants this man fired please explain to me and others what was racist about this meme. If it were making fun of Trump would it be racist. Nancy Pelosi’s husband? No. Not to those who only see the world through the eyes of a victim. Anyone who disagrees with you is racist or misogynistic. Find your safe space and suck your thumbs.

    1. They are RIDICULOUS. Everything is race and sexual proclivities to these indoctrinated drones. They have race-tinted glasses on.

  8. “While the First Amendment protects Ferrando’s right to free speech, it does not mandate that the SFPD, or any employer, tolerate that speech”

    Just remember that when you Marxists get fired from your jobs. Yea….I have been in the Bay Area waaaay longer than you Eleni, long enough to remember when your “like minded” crowd was always talking about Free Speech. The dude posted a meme, and of all the problems SF is dealing with, this is what you focus on? Somebody that brought weed into Russia…after having gone there for 10 years and still could not bother herself to become familiar with the most basic of laws there. It must really piss you off that you can’t stop all the videos of the rampant lawlessness in SF.

  9. It saddens me that someone can work for a police department in this country for well over thirty tears and still have such a poor understanding of the constitution.

  10. She suddenly now has a medical card? No before it was she had a medical recommendation that was after she please guilty. The narrative keeps changing so who is falsifying the documents to backdate a medical state issued card? Pretty Fishy not to mention still illegal to transport into non reciprocal states and obviously other countries. Ignorant, entitled, protected class rich kid thinks laws shouldn’t apply to her because of her gender identity sexual orientation and social status.

  11. Is it too much to ask that our police force is not full of racists and those with obvious bias against some? Look, if you want to spew racist stuff on Facebook be prepared for condemnation.

    1. Kim, give me just one single shred of an example that shows this officers comment had anything to do with race.

      Is it too much to ask that white people not be immediately called racist, just because they said something negative about someone who isn’t white?

  12. So let me get this straight: This person brought MJ, which is still Federally illegal, into a US Airport (Federal Crime) – then flew to a foreign country where it is also illegal (Russian Crime)…and wants special privileges? And hates the USA at the same time? LOL. I also didn’t see anything about ‘Black Lesbian’ in the meme? The Pulitzer Committee should be calling shortly.

    1. She’s actually being held because of politics, she’s a political prisoner but there is so many racist out there, that you all forgot that Russia is in a war and that they do things like this all the time. But hey go ahead and continue you to spew your hate that isn’t racist. I sure hope nothing like this happens to your kids over less than a gram of weed. I hope you let them rot cause they deserve it right.

      1. She isn’t being held because of politics. But some cop in SF is absolutely being strung up because of politics.

        I have a suggestion for the people trying to get the cop fired: go offer to switch places with the BB player in Russia. You all have the same political bent as Putin. That’s where y’all should go move.

      2. Something like this DID happen to me, a straight white male in America. Funny how it’s considered unlawful detention by the same government that regularly locks up its own citizens, such as myself for possession, not importation, of marijuana…everything isn’t about race, no matter how much you’ve been brainwashed into believing that’s the case. Also, it wasn’t just a “gram of weed” she was caught smuggling over international borders, it was a refined oil, which carries extra penalties even here in the states.

  13. I guess cops aren’t entitled an opinion on someone who brazenly broke the law and expects special treatment because she plays basketball but is discriminated against because she only makes what a lowly doctor earns and not LeBron.

    But they think you’re racist or on Russias side if you don’t think she deserves a special pass because of who she is.

    1. Ferrando’s ostensible opinion is that he is prim and proper and that Griner didn’t behave in such a manner on the court. Both enacted their first amendment right, as we are doing here. It is also the right of the public to pressure SF police brass to take disciplinary action, and for police brass to apply disciplinary measures. We can frame it how we want, but that’s how it works.

      Griner’s celebrity privilege is a double edge sword. Ferrando got a boost in gaining the empathy needed to understand such a quandry. If his view is taken at face value, Russian law isn’t why he wanted Griner to face consequences. It’s a red herring to throw that in the mix – you failed to mention Ferrando’s ostensible impetus.

  14. He did nothing wrong – this selective and faux outrage over a criminal is dumb.
    She’s in prison because she violated the laws of another country, and plead guilty – let her rot.

  15. Brittney Griner is a celebrity and she’s not a San Francisco resident, so Ferrando should be able to voice his opinion without fear of recrimination and Ynez should not get all butthurt over it

  16. The guy posted a meme that may or may not be offensive depending on how sensitive you are. He should lose his job for that? She broke the law in a foreign country and suddenly she’s declared wrongfully detained. Obviously you believe if someone disagrees with you they must lose their freedom as well. Who are the tyrants?

  17. Lot of people in the comments here being pretty obtuse.

    For those claiming they don’t understand how the post is racially motivated, are you living under a rock? Have you not paid any attention to people taking a knee during the anthem as a form of protest?

    No reasonable person can deny that people of color in our society face a different justice. We claim values that we don’t practice, namely, equal justice. Rejecting the politicization of a sports game when those politics actively hurt people like you is not unreasonable, and not un-patriotic.

    For further info, see “dog whistle”. And punt the guy. His biases in his personal life get people killed in his professional life.

    1. This has zero to do with race. It is an opinion about an unpatriotic basketball
      Player who smuggled an illegal substance into Russia and got caught. It is getting very old listening to those on the left lying like a bunch of Leninists and spinning everything to fit their sick agenda. The left are perpetually offended by EVERYTHING. How about instead of trying to create a witch hunt based on nothing and based on lies, you on the left go get help for your mental disorders?

      1. I love comments like these..Because you’re right, people shouldn’t jump to conclusions especially to fit a narrative. Yet, you’re implying he isn’t biased & it has “zero to do with race”. So you know him personally for this to be facts? Or are you trying to deflect the possibility that he may indeed be bias, while you’re being a hypocrite in process? Just saying. He didn’t even remember the post like it happened years ago & didn’t even deny that he’s any of those things people are accusing him of lol. I’m not jumping to conclusions, but I can see why people question his motive is all.

        1. Jay, what the smart people are saying is that, while we might not know him personally, there is absolutely nothing in his post that was even remotely racist. So while yes, it is just a guess that he made his posts without racism in mind, it’s a far more reasonable assumption, based on available evidence, than simply claiming he’s racist because he’s white and she’s black.

    2. You’re wrong there and I can prove it.

      The same crowd who doesn’t like people taking a knee during the anthem don’t care what color you are, correct?

      How is it racist to consider that disrespectful? It’s not.

      She broke the law brazenly in another country. She knew better. You know better than to do that.

      She isn’t the first to be arrested there for that. But she is the first anyone made a fuss over merely because she plays ball.

    3. Tarniv, I can deny it, as a straight white male who has been illegally searched on a number of occasions which led to actual jail time for simple possession. I’ve also been chased out of neighborhoods for being a “white boy” so I can definitely say that black people can be racist too. So yeah, I have actual experience in the matter. How about yourself? Since I’ve been the victim of racism, should I just go around assuming that any black person who says anything negative about any white person is racist? Because that’s exactly what you and people who “think” like you do act.

  18. So he retired as a cop in 2010 and is working as a part time civilian backgrounds investigator. Department General Orders DGO’s contain the rules for the dept. but usually for MEMBERS of the dept. So what does member mean, to me it is a currently employed sworn law enforcement officer not a part time civilian employee senior citizen, former officer. The commission can change the rules to make it all SFPD employees and not use members when they revamp the DGO’s. Everyone is implying his Facebook entry is racist but in actuality nothing is racist in his comment if it was then he would be put in Facebook timeout jail or kicked off Facebook. Nothing here in not even Facebook sees anything wrong.

  19. The irony is this stupid cop is saying that he’s being persecuted for speaking out in public. He claims he should be free to say what he wants. However, he wants Griner to be held hostage in a foreign country for speaking out. He’s a stupid hypocrite.

    1. Griner isn’t being held in a foreign country for speaking out. She’s being held for possession of a controlled substance.

  20. This cop is an idiot. He wants an America, whatever her politics are to be held hostage by Putin. Her crime would usually get her maybe a couple of months and a fine. I wonder how he feels about Trump who sent a mob to overthrow the government. The National Anthem as it is now, isn’t the original, the original National Anthem had very racist lines against blacks. But I don’t expect this cop to care about facts, just wants to spew nonsense. I don’t think anyone that stupid should be a cop, is he going to treat everyone equally? If someone has on a Colin Kaepernick shirt, is he going to treat them equally? I think he needs to go, he’s a target, and he’s biased. He holds a position of public trust, he should keep his silly opinions private and not post them for everyone to see.

    1. your comments are based on what you think would happen in a US Court and a crime o simple possession… she was charged with smuggling in a foreign country noted for it’s harsh penalties and even harsher prisons.. She knowingly violated the law, she does not deserve any special treatment.. nor would you or I if we did the same thing.

    2. And btw…if you had your way there probably wouldn’t be many cops. Most of them wouldn’t take issue with the post he shared.

    3. John, you should probably know what your talking about before you open your mouth, it makes you look pretty ignorant when you don’t. Smuggling drugs over international borders has never carried the slap on the wrist that you imply. Do your research!

  21. Cops in hyper political SF should know what I warn my grands – nothing good comes from social media. Look at baby and puppy/kitten pics; otherwise be very afraid. As for the WNBA player she’s just the latest and most high profile in a long list of foolish young Americans to discover breaking even “minor” laws has very serious consequences outside of US, Australia/Canada and EU. No presumption of innocence, very pro prosecution rules and very draconian sentences. Get arrested and you will almost certainly do hard time, period.

  22. Are you serious? Don Imus? Imus made a clearly racist comment about a group of African American women basketball players. This guy made no such comments. Talk about a reach.

    1. Imus was an older white dude who felt inclined – and thought he could get away with – disparaging younger, Black women basketball players for sporting a Afrocentric style on the basketball court.

      Ferrando is an older white dude who felt inclined – and thought he could get away with – disparaging a younger, Black woman basketball star – who sports an Afrocentric style – for, ostensibly, not participating in the national anthem on the basketball court.

      I’m off base for being reminded of Imus? Could be, could be. You’re correct, after all, Ferrando didn’t use a racial slur.

  23. We know for long about the corps culture in the PD. Pearlclutching commissioners (“OMG”) like Yañez signal that the commission (and beyond) are just going to have a bone with it for a while. Discipline the guy for having been caught. Perhaps see if some mileage can be had out of it for proliferation, but not really change a thing. Why would they, as long as the PD is the gift that keeps on giving.

    1. That’s not how this works in the workplace. There are plenty of “ideas” you may have during the course of a workday that are within your rights that”ll get – and should – get you fired.

      1. Disagree. I manage 20 people and what they do in their free time is their business. If they want to post that the earth is flat, that climate change is a myth, or that we need a communist revolution, then that is none of my beeswax if it is done outside of work hours.

        One of the most unattractive and ugly aspects of cancel culture and thought policing is this idea that your private thoughts are somehow subject to public censorship.

        1. A sworn officer is a sworn officer no matter whether on the clock or not. Remember the hot cop of the Castro? He wouldn’t have made the papers if he had worked as a barista.

          1. Absolutely correct, however at this point in his life he has been a retired officer for 12 years and is now employed as a part time civilian backgrounds investigator. He is no longer a police officer and hasn’t been for twelve years. He has no police, law enforcement powers as a civilian.
            The hot cop in the Castro was a sworn member of the SFPD who, if I remember correctly was drinking off duty and then fled on foot from the scene of a traffic collision that was his fault. Completely against any rules of being a cop on duty or off duty. I would guess that he also had his firearm on him which may have also caused him to leave the scene. Not supposed to drink and carry a firearm.

            Civilian v Sworn member so totally different circumstances.

      2. Exactly. How can he not be a target if he’s on the street? Anyone stupid enough to post comments like that while being in a position of public trust needs to go. He can’t work there any more. Maybe get a podcast on twitter spewing his anti-American nonsense.

  24. Griner is a political prisoner being held on ginned up charges of trafficking a harmless substance for personal use, so what form of law and order do we subscribe to in the SFPD, US law or Russian kangaroo courts? He has a right to say what he wants – and the dept has a right to uphold its image by suspending and retraining the investigator on this point, or suggesting he just retire if he can’t be a professional public servant on and off the clock, like the job entails.

    1. That simply isn’t true. Russia is very hard on possession of marijuana/cannabis and no one denies she did it.

      The sentencing was within the law there.

      Agree with it or not it was stupid of her to bring it. If you don’t lie to yourself, you personally would never dream of taking that to Russia. The difference is you don’t play ball so no one would care or be talking about it. Why does she deserve special treatment beyond what you’d get if it was you?

  25. So let me get this straight. If you don’t have sympathy for someone Who was arrested for bringing illegal drugs into another country you are a racist? Another example of the far left intolerance for anybody’s views other than their own. It seems Britney it’s not the only one living in a police state.

    1. She’s actually being held because of politics, she’s a political prisoner but there is so many racist out there, that you all forgot that Russia is in a war and that they do things like this all the time. But hey go ahead and continue you to spew your hate that isn’t racist. I sure hope nothing like this happens to your kids over less than a gram of weed. I hope you let them rot cause they deserve it right.

  26. Respect for the national anthem may not be a popular view in the Mission District, but it shouldn’t really be surprising that a police officer found this meme amusing. Nor should it be disqualifying.

    We can’t ask police to agree with all of the neighborhood’s political beliefs. We do demand that they follow the law. There does not seem to be any lawbreaking here.

  27. Nice work, Ms. Balakrishnan. This post by the SFPD is reminiscent of Don Imus’s notorious remark when he was commentator for the WNBA.

  28. The allegation here appears to be of bias, based on the fact that Grimer is a black lesbian.

    But the cop makes no reference to either her race nor her sexual identity. Rather the complaint about her is that she exhibited a lack of patriotism regarding the national anthem, and yet now seeks the consular help of the U.S.

    You might not agree that is hypocrisy, but it does not appear to be a case of bias based on Grimer being a black lesbian.

    1. ” As the first point of contact for incoming officers, Williams said, Ferrando and others doing background investigations are role models and must set an example.”

      Who set him up with that job? Stop the rot.