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SFPD Officer’s Racist Text Messages Revealed

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — San Francisco's public defender on Tuesday revealed a former San Francisco police officer's racist text messages as he called for stronger steps to eliminate racism from the police force.

Officer Jason Lai, who was charged with six misdemeanor counts of misusing criminal and DMV records last month, sent a series of bigoted text messages uncovered during an investigation into allegations of sexual assault made against him.

In the messages, Lai refers to African-Americans as "a pack of wild animals," calls Mexicans "beaners" and says Indian people are "disgusting."

At one point, Lai misspells a Cantonese slur for black people, "bak gwai," writing, "Bunch of hock gwais shooting each other. Too bad none of them died. One less to worry about."

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi didn't mince words upon revealing Lai's text messages.

"It is chilling how casually former officer Lai dehumanizes the citizens he was sworn to serve," Adachi said. "He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in."

The latest batch of racist texts surfaced one year after a prior scandal implicated 14 officers who exchanged bigoted messages. A state court judge ruled this past December that eight officers involved in that scandal could not be fired because the department waited too long to take disciplinary action. Seven of the officers continue to receive paychecks from the city while on administrative leave.

The latest round of racist texts, exchanged in 2014 and 2015, involve Lai and three other officers, including Curtis Liu, Keith Ybaretta and fourth unnamed officer.

District Attorney George Gascón's office turned over Lai's texts to the public defender, but Liu and Ybaretta's texts have not yet been disclosed.

Adachi said his office is looking at 207 cases in which the three officers were involved over the last 10 years to determine if arrestees were unfairly targeted because of their race.

"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."

Adachi also questioned whether it's a coincidence that evidence of a racist culture within the department has surfaced at the same time the police force has come under fire for the shooting deaths of four African-American and Latino men.

Just over two years ago, police officers shot and killed 28-year-old Alex Nieto, a security guard and college student who carried a Taser, in Bernal Heights Park in March 2014.

In February 2015, officers shot and killed Amilcar Perez-Lopez, a 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant who was reportedly wielding a knife when he was shot in the back in the Mission District, according to an autopsy.

In December 2015, officers shot and killed 26-year-old Mario Lopez, another knife-wielding suspect. That shooting was caught on video, sparking protests and calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign.

On April 7, officers shot and killed 45-year-old Luis Gongora, a homeless Latino man also holding a knife near 18th and Shotwell Streets, sparking further outrage among police reform advocates and protesters.

Adachi, who called for the state's attorney general to launch a full civil rights probe into the police department earlier this month, said the police chief must take stronger steps to change the department's culture.

The public defender called on officers to report racism and misconduct when they see it, and for the police chief to make sure officers who ignore racism and misconduct also face consequences for their inaction.

"It's time for officers to speak up when their colleagues exhibit this kind of bigotry," Adachi said. "It is corroding community trust and making it harder for good officers to do their jobs."

In a statement released Tuesday, the SFPD said it has separated with three officers involved in the latest racist texting scandal and that a fourth officer has a pending case before the Police Commission where "he faces discipline up to and including termination."

"There is no room in this department for anyone who holds these types of hateful and discriminatory views," Suhr said on Tuesday. "Any officer who engages in such reprehensible racist and homophobic remarks will be held accountable and swiftly dealt with. These views are clearly incompatible with the character required of being a police officer. We will not allow officers capable of such conduct to sully the good name of the San Francisco Police Department and what we stand for."

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