San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said Friday he is moving to fire a captain, a sergeant and six other officers implicated in sending and receiving “reprehensible” racist and homophobic text messages that came to light during a federal corruption probe.
In announcing the proposed purge, the chief is seeking to show he has a firm grip on conduct in his force after critics questioned whether the text messages exposed a deeper vein of police bias. The scandal could jeopardize court cases that relied on testimony from the officers linked to the ugly texts.
“There were eight standing officers who engaged in such repulsive conversations via text messages,” Suhr said. “I have suspended them and they have been referred to the Police Commission with a recommendation of only termination — as it should be. Their conduct is incompatible with that of a police officer.”
Three of the eight officers — identified by sources as Michael Robison, Noel Schwab and Michael Celis — have already either resigned or told police they will resign, officials said. “I imagine more of them, if not all of them, are considering the same thing,” Suhr said.
Officer Sean Doherty, an 11-year veteran, Sgt. Michael Wibunsin, a 12-year veteran, and night supervising Capt. Jason Fox, 42, a 20-year veteran, are among those facing termination, sources said. Suhr said the fact that such a high-ranking member of the department was involved in exchanging offensive texts was “particularly disheartening.”
Six additional officers were implicated to lesser degrees, Suhr said.
‘Single event texts’
Two officers allegedly exchanged what Suhr called “single event texts” that were inflammatory but “did not rise to the level” of messages exchanged by the eight officers the chief wants fired. “They can provide their explanations to the commission and the commission can decide if those officers should be terminated as well,” Suhr said.
The other four officers sent messages that included violations of department standards, Suhr said, such as leaving their assigned area or using improper language. Suhr said he will decide whether to suspend them for up to 10 days each.
The text messages, sent in 2011 and 2012, emerged last month in a federal court filing seeking to keep former city police Sgt. Ian Furminger in custody after he was convicted on corruption charges.
A ‘virulent’ racist
Federal prosecutors called Furminger, 48, a “virulent” racist and homophobe. In one exchange with an unnamed officer, Furminger asked whether he should be worried that the black husband of one of his then-wife’s friends had come over to his home.
The officer responded, “Get ur pocket gun. Keep it available in case the monkey returns to his roots. Its (sic) not against the law to put an animal down.”
“Well said!” Furminger replied, according to a court filing. “You may have to kill the half-breeds too,’’ the unnamed officer replied, adding: “Don’t worry. Their (sic) an abomination of nature anyway.”
Police officials said they were barred by law from identifying the other officers who allegedly sent and received text messages. But sources with knowledge of the matter identified Fox, Celis, Wibunsin, Robison, Doherty, Schwab and Rain Daugherty as the officers targeted for termination by Suhr. The eighth officer in the group has not been notified officially that he is facing possible dismissal.
Attorney Tony Brass, who represented Celis and Robison, said there was no point in fighting the charges at this point.
“There is more to the story,” Brass said, “but having been involved in this is regrettable and incompatible with still being a police officer in the city of San Francisco.”
Some officers resigning
He said Celis informed police officials on Friday that he is leaving. Robison, a 23-year veteran of the force, resigned before the conclusion of the investigation.
Schwab has told police he will resign as of Tuesday, sources said.
Daugherty’s attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, said her client has not resigned.
District Attorney George Gascón said his office is reviewing cases handled by the officers in the past 10 years to determine if racial bias could have played a role in any outcomes. Public Defender Jeff Adachi, whose office is also reviewing these cases, said he expects more than 1,000 cases will require a closer look.
Adachi on Friday called Suhr’s move to fire the officers “a step in the right direction, and I strongly encourage the Police Commission to follow suit.”
“The characterization of these hateful statements as innocent banter is dead wrong,” Adachi said. “This casual dehumanization leads to real life suffering and injustice. It foments a toxic environment in which citizens fear and distrust the police, brutality reigns, and good officers are less effective.”
Adachi proposed that all San Francisco officers go through at least 25 hours of training in how to avoid racial bias.