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Police Can Be Disciplined for Racist, Homophobic Texts, Court Rules

A California appeals court cleared the way for disciplinary proceedings against San Francisco police officers for sending homophobic and racist text messages in 2012.

A trial judge had dismissed the case, saying the department filed charges after the statute of limitations period. But the First District Court of Appeal said the department was cooperating with a federal criminal investigation at the time, which extended the deadline.

The decision, holding that the statute of limitations was stayed during a criminal trial, is legally interesting. But the backstory is the stuff of police corruption movies.

"Day of Shame"

It started with a video. While defending people accused of different crimes, Public Defender Jeff Adachi discovered a surveillance video that contradicted police testimony.

As it unfolded, officer Reynaldo Vargas testified that he and other officers routinely took money and property from drug dealers and did not book it into evidence. On one occasion, they took $30,000 in cash.

Police Sgt. Ian Furminger was convicted of four felonies, "a day of shame for law enforcement," said Judge Charles Breyer in 2015. He sentenced the longtime police officer to 41 months in prison.

Six officers were indicted in the scandal.

Peace Officer's Rights

During the investigations, local authorities discovered racist and homophobic texts between nine officers. Judge Martin Jenkins, writing for the appeals court, said the nature of the investigation complicated the issue about when to file disciplinary charges.

"Practically speaking, the ebb and flow of activity in a criminal case, particularly an investigation involving a broad conspiracy, precludes a definitive standard," Jenkins said.

In disciplinary cases, the state Peace Officer's Bill of Rights requires police agencies to file charges within one year after discovering misconduct.

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