San Francisco, CA — Racist and homophobic text messages exchanged between three San Francisco police officers may affect at least 207 criminal cases, including three murder cases, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Adachi released text messages from former officer Jason Lai, which his office received Friday in discovery for a robbery case Lai helped investigate. In the messages, Lai makes disparaging remarks about African Americans, Latinos, Indians, and LGBT people. In the messages, which are rife with racial and sexual slurs, Lai compares black people to “barbarians” and “a pack of wild animals on the loose.” Using a Cantonese slur for blacks, Lai states “Bunch of hock gwais shooting each other. Too bad none of them died. One less to worry about.”
“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 text messages came to light after police investigated a rape accusation against Lai. He was charged last month with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful possession of criminal history information and four misdemeanor counts of misuse of confidential Department of Motor Vehicles information and is currently free on bail.
In addition to Lai, prosecutors have named two more SFPD officers in the most recent texting scandal—Curtis Liu and Keith Ybaretta. Their messages have not been provided to the public defender.
“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.”
This is the second texting scandal to surface. The first scandal, involving a group of five officers who sent racist and homophobic messages between 2011 and 2012, came to light during a police corruption trial.
“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.”