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article imageSF cop's racist texts released by public defender's office

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 28, 2016 in Crime
San Francisco - On Tuesday, the San Francisco public defender released several racist and homophobic text messages allegedly sent by a San Francisco Police officer embroiled in a scandal that has shaken the San Francisco Police Department.
The bigoted messages that were exchanged between three San Francisco police officers may impact at least 207 criminal cases, including three homicide cases, said public defender Jeff Adachi, NBC Bay Area reports.
The text messages were from former SFPD officer Jason Lai, and Adachi released the messages after receiving them from the department on Friday in connection with a robbery case Lai was investigating. Officers Curtis Liu and Keith Ybaretta, who are still with the department, have also been named by prosecutors as being involved in the scandal. And, at a press conference, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said that their text messages were also abhorrent.
In the texts, African-Americans are called barbarians and "wild animals on the loose." Others smear President Barack Obama and the NBA's LeBron James, Reuters reports. Another message said it was unfortunate that black suspects involved in shootings didn't kill each other.
"It is chilling how casually former officer Lai dehumanizes the citizens he was sworn to serve," Adachi said in a statement. "He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in."
Don Nobles, Lai's attorney, was unavailable for comment Tuesday. However, he told CNN that the texts were "not reflective of who he is" and also said "there is no evidence he carried out any of those sentiments as an officer."
"He was well-liked and well-loved on his beat," Nobles said of the six-year veteran.
The texts were seized from Lai's personal phone. They had been exchanged with close friends on the police force and with people he befriended on his beat, the attorney said.
"It's hard to say any of those things in context, Nobles said, "but there is context to it."
This is the second time in two years that the department has been involved in a racist texting scandal, and CNN reports that it may well undermine Chief Greg Suhr's contention that the problem is limited to a small number of officers and not part of a larger cultural problem within the department, as asserted by critics.
At a Tuesday press conference, a visibly shaken Suhr said reading the messages sent by Lai and other officers "literally makes me sick to my stomach."
"I apologize to the public," he said. "We are better than this."
He added that the texts sent by the other officers were "no less reprehensible" than those sent by Lai.
Further, he said he has "no tolerance for officers who hold such reprehensible views."
"The message is clear to both the officers in the department and the public: We will not have this in the San Francisco Police Department," Suhr said. "The culture of this police department is, you demonstrate yourself to be a racist and a homophobe, and you're not going to be a police officer in San Francisco."
He said he plans to have the entire department undergo "bias training" to make certain each officer understands and accepts that message.
"I have already taken that training as has the entire command staff," he noted.
The texts date back to October 2014, and in them Lai uses racials slurs targeting black and Hispanic people, SFGate reports.
When referring to gay people, he used the number 528, which is a police code some people say is used to describe a person as "flaming." The terms "tranny" and "lesbo" were also used to refer to transgender people and lesbians.
The texts were made by an officer who was obviously using his judgment and power, Adachi said at a news conference.
"This is an officer who is making arrests, who is stopping people, who is deciding who to bring in and who to detain. It comes at a time when we know San Francisco has a Ferguson problem," he said, referring to the Missouri city where black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by police. Federal officials found police were unfairly targeting the black community.
The text messages came to light after a woman accused Lai of raping her on a date last August. In their digging, investigators found the text messages, and they also looked into whether Lt. Curtis Liu had alerted Lai to the rape allegations, thus obstructing the investigation.
Although investigators couldn't find sufficient evidence to support the rape allegations,prosecutors charged Lai in March with misusing police databases. Noble has said he has spoken to more than a dozen of Lai's friends and each person told him the text messages weren't reflective of Lai's character or actions.
The public defender requested copies of the text messages sent from all three officer's phones after their discovery was announced in March by the district attorney's office. So far he's only received messages sent and received by the former officer.
What bothered Adachi the most was the apparent ease in which Lai made the derogatory remarks and the way those remarks were intertwined with his duties as an officer.
"I hate that beaner," one text message read, according to CNN, "but I think the nig is worse."
Others included "Indian ppl are disgusting," and "Burn down walgreens and kill the bums."
At another point, Lai disparaged President Obama and said he hates basketball player LeBron James.
"F--- that nig," he said.
NBC News reports that Lai was charged last month with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of criminal history information and four misdemeanor counts of misusue of confidential Department of Motor Vehicles Information.
He is currently free on bail.
"It would be naive to believe these officers' bigotry was reserved solely for text messages," Adachi said. "It is a window into the biases they harbored. It likely influenced who they stopped, who they searched, who they arrested, and how they testified in criminal trials."
Asked about potential disciplinary action against the officers, Suhr said no discipline more severe than being separated from the department.
In the meantime, activists have been holding a hunger strike, calling for Suhr to be fired. In response, Suhr said he has no intention of leaving the police department.
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