When Ferguson took to the news last August following the shooting death of Michael Brown, few people had heard of the suburban St. Louis community, but the problems of a largely white police and city council and largely black community were hardly surprising.
When the focus turned to New York, there was a long history of black community-police strife, even pre-dating the Guiliani era.
However, the problems in San Francisco, on the other hand, are nothing sort of stunning. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted two weeks ago, “S.F.’s tarnished diversity brand harms our future.”
Jeremy Adam Smith writes, “San Francisco is a city with a strong brand identity, one defined by diversity, innovation and fairness. Many came to the city fleeing places like Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of Michael Brown was followed by revelations of pervasive racism within the department and city government.
“But San Francisco’s brand is in decline — and today the city is facing a profound identity crisis. Far from being an exceptional place where people of many different backgrounds can feel at home, it is coming to resemble the rest of the country.”
It is the rest of the country part that should scare the living bejeebers out of everyone. San Francisco is not a community that is likely to turn its back on these problems like other places in the country. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, like his predecessor Kamala Harris, now California’s Attorney General, has been a driving force behind progressive reform of California’s criminal justice system.
Now he finds himself “reassigning staff and looking for more funding to investigate three separate scandals involving city law enforcement agencies.”
He told reporters on Monday, “I find it repulsive. In my entire 30-year-plus career in law enforcement, these are some of the worst allegations that I have seen. And I find them extremely troubling, not only because of the incidents, but because of the potential repercussions for involving so many prosecutions.”
Three scandals have broken out in San Francisco since mid-March and that doesn’t even include the much publicized case where a public defender was arrested for questioning the legality of an arrest taking place in front of her.
The first scandal, as we have reported, was a series of text messages containing racial jokes and other bigoted messages that were swapped between several San Francisco police officers. These text conversations came to light during Sgt. Ian Furminger’s federal fraud trial and it implicated at least four current SFPD officers, and potentially more.
Last week, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced that their investigation, conducted by the independent private investigation firm Simon Associates after an inmate’s father alerted his son’s public defender to the abuse on March 12, showed that sheriff’s deputies forced inmates to fight in gladiator-style matches while he and his colleagues bet on the outcomes.
“These revelations are sickening,” Jeff Adachi said. “Deputy Neu forced these young men to participate in gladiator-style fights for his own sadistic entertainment.”
“It’s unlikely that this case was limited to only four people,” Mr. Gascón said. “We want to know who else knew, when did they know, have there been other similar cases, are there any other issues going on over there that we should know?”
But that is not enough. Over the weekend, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that supervisors at the city’s crime lab were under investigation for submitting potentially shoddy DNA matches in criminal cases. This scandal “may imperil hundreds of criminal cases based on DNA evidence,” the paper reported.
“I don’t know how long this task force is going to last,” Mr. Gascón said. “It may be months, it may be years. We’re talking about very complex issues, and frankly we’re only beginning to see the surface. We do not know at this point how deeply the problems run within either organization.”
According to Jeff Adachi, the crime analyst, at least in one case, would submit findings helpful to the prosecution but not submit findings helpful to the defense.
Mr. Adachi is calling the state or federal DOJ rather than the local DA to investigate these complaints.
“I don’t like it,” Mr. Adachi said. “I don’t think law enforcement should be investigating law enforcement. I have less of a problem investigating the problems in the sheriff’s department, but with the DNA crime lab, and the police, these witnesses are relied upon by the district attorney in seeking their convictions.”
“I invite members of the public and members of law enforcement to provide information to this office concerning any of these cases or any other allegations of misconduct involving law enforcement personnel in our county,” Mr. Gascón said. “San Francisco will have no tolerance for bad behavior or criminal behavior within our law enforcement community, and part of that begins with all of us standing tall and ensuring that these cases and any other cases that may be found are handled appropriately. The public deserves this and I will make sure that we do so.”
Our concern is this: if these things are happening in San Francisco, what is going on in the rest of the country where the media is more likely to look the other way and they have public defender’s offices headed by appointed officials with few resources?
Jeff Adachi is one of the only elected public defenders in the country, and that gives him a level of autonomy that public defenders who serve at the will of the county supervisors do not have.
—David M. Greenwald reporting