San Francisco DA Investigating Systemic Bias in Law Enforcement Agencies


San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón last week announced an expanded inquiry into biases in the city’s police and sheriff’s departments.

Mr. Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief, formed a taskforce to investigate misconduct related to racist and homophobic text messages sent by 14 San Francisco Police Department officers, revelations of faulty testing at the DNA crime lab, and prize-fighting of inmates in the County Jail.

Last week, the district attorney announced that three retired judges are being added to the taskforce to review 3000 arrests in which the 14 officers were involved to ensure bias did not lead to a wrongful prosecution or conviction. They will also evaluate whether there is a deeper culture of bias in the police department and how it may have impacted prosecutions.

“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers – that’s one too many,” said Mr. Gascón in a statement. Some pending cases have been dismissed, he said, and prosecutors so far have disclosed potential problems in about 60 more cases.

African Americans comprise only about 5 percent of San Francisco’s population, but they represent half of its arrests and jail inmates. More than 60 percent of children in juvenile detention are Black. African American residents have long complained about harassment and excessive use of force by police.

In March, during a federal corruption trial of two San Francisco officers, text messages were disclosed that discussed lynching African Americans and proposing they “should be spayed.” One read “White Power” and some used racial slurs for African Americans. Other texts made denigrating comments about gays, Mexicans, and Filipinos.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has moved to fire seven officers who sent and received the racist text messages. An eighth officer has resigned.

In addition to the text messages, the taskforce is investigating gladiator-style fights among San Francisco jail inmates that San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi has said were arranged by sheriff’s deputies. The jail guards bet on the fights and threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they refused to fight.

Prosecutors are also examining hundreds of criminal convictions that may have been compromised by analysts at the police laboratory who improperly handled DNA samples.

Mr. Adachi said African Americans are arrested and prosecuted at much higher rates than whites, adding, “This is not an isolated case of 14 officers.”