San Francisco police in 2nd racist texting scandal

Paul Elias
Associated Press

San Francisco — A beleaguered San Francisco Police Department took another hit to its tarnished image Tuesday with the release of racist and homophobic text messages allegedly exchanged among officers.

The city’s public defender released transcripts of the offensive texts, which emerged during a rape investigation of a former officer. The messages belittle blacks, Latinos and Indians and insult President Barack Obama and NBA superstar LeBron James, among many other disparaging conversations.

It’s the second such text messaging scandal to shake the department since it was disclosed in late 2014 that a group of officers exchanged racist and homophobic text messages in an unrelated case.

The current texting scandal began last year when a woman accused Jason Lai of rape after night of heavy drinking. Lai was a patrol officer at the time. He resigned earlier this month.

The San Francisco district attorney said in March there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Lai with rape, but the former officer was charged with misdemeanors for illegally accessing driving and criminal records.

The offensive text messages were found on Lai’s personal cellphone, which was seized as part of the investigation. The text messages found on the phone were sent to colleagues in 2014 and 2015.

“Indian ppl are disgusting,” one text reads.

Other texts use a slur to describe Mexican people.

A text stating “burn down Walgreens and kill the bums” was also found on Lai’s phone.

The text messages were released by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who is representing a defendant in a case involving Lai.

“This isn’t a slip of the tongue,” Adachi said. “This is a person who is fully committed to expressing his bias to his friends.”

The names of the other officers on the receiving end of many of the texts were redacted. Adachi says his office is reviewing 207 criminal cases Lai helped investigate.

Lai’s attorney Don Nobles didn’t immediately return a phone call.

The text messages also said the sender hates James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, calling the basketball player the “n’’ word. A Cantonese slur for black people was used several times last year while describing a shooting and ridiculed a suspect who sustained gunshot wounds.

“Too bad none of them died,” Lai texted. “One less to worry about.”

Lai allegedly texted a colleague during a night of civil unrest in Baltimore after Freddie Gray, a black man, died after his neck was broken in the back of a police van.

“They’re like a pack (of) wild animals on the loose,” the text said of blacks protesting Gray’s death.

The latest texting scandal comes amid the department’s attempts to repair frayed relationships with many of the city’s black residents and others angered by the previous round of inappropriate messages exchanged among officers. The department’s community relations worsened after officers fatally shot two knife-wielding minority suspects in the last two months.

Chief Greg Suhr has said he will not heed calls to resign and is working to overhaul the department’s use-of-force policies. Mayor Ed Lee said he supports the chief’s reform efforts, which include calling in the U.S. Department of Justice to review the Police Department’s policy and procedures.

Suhr has scheduled a press conference later Tuesday to address the latest scandal.