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Retired judges join task force probing San Francisco cops

SAN FRANCISCO -- Three retired judges will be working with San Francisco prosecutors to review thousands of criminal cases that may have been tainted by 14 of the city's police officers who sent homophobic, racist and sexist text messages, reports CBS San Francisco.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said the judges, Justice Cruz Reynoso, Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell and Judge Dickran Tevrizian Jr., were selected to join a task force formed in March to investigate police officer misconduct, because of their experience with civil rights and criminal justice reform.

The trio will review more than 3,000 criminal cases, arrests and convictions involving the 14 officers during the last 10 years for possible evidence bias, according to Gascon.

Cases involving individuals who are incarcerated will be moved to the top of the list, Gascon said. He added that in cases where evidence is in question, his task force will--and already is--providing that information to defense attorneys.

Gascon estimated that perhaps 60 or 70 cases involving individuals in custody have already been identified, but he stressed that those numbers are likely to fluctuate as the investigation continues.

The text messages were released publicly in March by the U.S. Attorney's Office, following the conviction of former police Officer Ian Furminger on four felony charges related to the theft of money and property seized from drug suspects during searches in 2009. They revealed inappropriate exchanges between Furminger and 14 other officers, including racist and derogatory language toward members of the public and police colleagues.

Gascon said the language in the text messages is hateful and that the recent misconduct exhibited by police officers is unacceptable.

"As evidenced in events in Baltimore; Staten Island; Ferguson, Missouri; South Carolina and far too many other places, when a police officer engages in misconduct, there are significant implications for public safety and for the public trust, particularly in our minority communities," Gascon said.

The task force is launching as police departments across the country come under increasing scrutiny. Those that have recently faced -- or are facing -- federal investigations include:

  • Baltimore, Md.: Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced last Friday an investigation into Baltimore police practices. The announcement came after the arrest of six police officers in relation to the death of Freddie Gray, an incident that sparked rioting and protests.
  • Albuquerque, N.M.: A Justice Department investigation found in April 2014 that Albuquerque Police Department officers too frequently used lethal and non-lethal force.
  • Cleveland, Ohio: In a scathing report released in December 2014, the Justice Department found that Cleveland police engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
  • Ferguson, Mo.: The Justice Department announced in March that an investigation, sparked by protests following the police shooting death of Michael Brown, found the small town's police prioritized revenue over public safety, and had patterns of racial bias and unreasonable force.
  • Portland, Ore.: The City of Portland and the Justice Department reached an agreement in August 2014 to address findings that officers used excessive force when dealing with people with mental illness.

Gascon said Thursday that he decided to bring in the judges from outside of San Francisco because of concerns regarding "deeper systemic issues" within the police department.

The judges will be equipped with a team of investigators that will review each case to check for possible racial bias, misconduct and wrongful convictions, as well as statistical arrest patterns. The task force also aims to identify officers and department protocols that foster a dangerous or biased culture within the police force.

A report of the task force's findings will be released to the public upon completion of the investigation.

The text messages were made public in March, but they had been turned over to the police department in 2012, Gascon said.

"(This) creates many concerns for us because many people have been prosecuted since December of 2012 that involve some of the officers who were participating in these text messages," Gascon said.

The Rev. Amos Brown, a board member with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he thinks the addition of the judges shows that the task force is seeking transparency.

Brown said the "bigoted, demeaning, and destructive texts" speak volumes about the culture in San Francisco and the police department.

But the task force gives him hope that justice will be delivered to a city that "far too many times has been mute, silent and indifferent in the face of injustice."