May 7, 2015
Twitter: @GeorgeGascon
Maxwell Szabo (415) 553-9089
Alex Bastian (415) 553-1931

Expanded Blue Ribbon Taskforce Empanels Three Retired Judges To Review 3,000 Arrests, Determine if Bias Led to Wrongful Prosecutions and Investigate the Extent and Impact of Culture of Bias at SFPD

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, District Attorney George Gascón announced the expansion of the existing taskforce that was implemented to investigate misconduct related to racist and homophobic text messages sent by 14 SFPD officers, revelations of faulty testing at the DNA crime lab, and prize-fighting of inmates in our County Jail. The expansion is limited to the inquiry pertaining to text messages which surfaced in a court filing submitted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office following the indictment of former SFPD Officer Ian Furminger.

With concern among members of the existing taskforce that bias on the part of the 14 officers may have inappropriately influenced arrest decisions and potentially resulted in wrongful convictions, three retired judges will be reviewing the 3,000 arrests in which these officers played a role. They are tasked with ensuring that bias did not lead to a wrongful prosecution or conviction. Moreover, they will evaluate whether there is a deeper culture of bias at the SFPD, and what the impact of such bias may be on prosecutions made by the District Attorney’s Office.

“If we want the public to trust law enforcement we need a culture of justice, transparency and accountability - not bias, secrecy and impunity,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “The actions of a few have undermined the public’s faith in the police officers who are sworn to protect us. Our criminal justice system must be free of bias in order to truly serve and protect all members of our community. This independent panel of experts will foster transparency and accountability as we take steps to remove bias from our system.”

The three judges, Justice Cruz Reynoso, Judge Ladoris Cordell, and Judge Dickran Tevrizian, have experience in civil rights and criminal justice reform. In order to ensure their independence they are from outside of San Francisco. They are not being paid, and have agreed to participate because they believe in the importance of this work. The scope of their inquiry will not be directed or limited, and their findings will be released in a report that the District Attorney will make public. While we hope they will complete their work before the end of the year, they will be empanelled as long as necessary to accomplish these very important objectives.

The vast majority of Police Officers and Sheriff’s Deputies execute their duties with distinction. However, policing and prosecution is infinitely more difficult when the community doesn’t trust you, and it’s with this mistrust in mind that our office is expanding this taskforce to ensure greater transparency and accountability. This taskforce seeks to protect the reputation and integrity of the excellent work of most officers, as their faithful and diligent service to San Franciscans has been poisoned by the dangerous culture promulgated by a few. Accordingly, a key goal of the taskforce is to identify those officers and department protocols that support such a culture. This can only be achieved by bringing more transparency to the relationship between police and prosecutors, as well as the community at-large. This is the only way to assure the public that systemic bias on the basis of race, sexual orientation or gender does not motivate and thereby inadvertently tilt the axis of a justice system that must retain its integrity in order to guard against abuses.

“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers - that's one too many,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “By rooting out bias and racism in our system, by installing a culture that doesn’t just preach tolerance, but demands it, and by instituting protocols that support transparency, it is my hope that we can begin to mend the trust between the public and law enforcement.”