(CN) – A California appellate court ruled Wednesday that the San Francisco Police Commission can bring disciplinary charges against nine police officers who sent homophobic and racist text messages discovered during a federal police misconduct investigation.
The First Appellate District overturned a state judge’s ruling that said San Francisco’s police department had filed for the hearings after the one-year statute of limitations had run out.
The texts were discovered as part of a joint police misconduct investigation in 2012 that led to the arrest of former police Sgt. Ian Furminger and other officers who were later convicted of pocketing money found at the houses of drug dealers.
Former police Chief Greg Suhr did not file disciplinary charges until Furminger’s trial was over in December 2014.
Officer Rain Daugherty sued San Francisco, claiming that the charges came too late. Former San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled in Daugherty’s favor in December 2015.
California’s Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, a 1976 law that guards the privacy of police officers and guarantees them certain rights, allows police agencies up to a year to file disciplinary charges after misconduct is discovered.
Justice Martin Jenkins, who penned the 38-page opinion, wrote that the statute of limitations was stayed during the corruption trial.
“[San Francisco Police] cooperated with federal authorities by adhering to the [U.S. Attorney Office’s] confidentiality restriction and a federal protective order during the pendency of a wide-ranging criminal investigation aimed at uncovering the full scope of a conspiracy within the department’s ranks,” Jenkins wrote.
Jenkins, along with justices Stuart Pollak and William McGuiness, noted that the nature of the investigation and involvement of federal authorities added to the difficulty of determining when to bring up charges against other officers.
“Practically speaking, the ebb and flow of activity in a criminal case, particularly an investigation involving a broad conspiracy, precludes a definitive standard,” Jenkins wrote.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera released a statement saying his office was pleased that “police officials do not have to compromise a criminal investigation in order to pursue discipline against officers accused of abhorrent behavior.”
“Forcing public officials to choose between the two would have made a mockery of justice,” Herrera said.