San Francisco—In light of recent developments and for the second time in two months, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi today urged the California Attorney General to open a civil rights investigation into the San Francisco Police Department’s practices.
Adachi’s second request comes after the Civil Grand Jury on Wednesday released a scathing report on how numerous scandals, from theft to incompetence, have damaged the credibility of the Francisco Crime Lab. Citing the lack of transparency, insufficient scientific knowledge among police supervisors, and perceived bias toward the prosecution, the Grand Jury called for the lab to separate from the police department and become independent.
The public defender also cites the May 19 officer involved shooting of unarmed black motorist Jessica Williams, noting that a 2015 report by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice revealed that San Francisco police arrest African American women at a rate 13 times greater than women of other races.
“I believe this tragedy may have been avoided if the police department was under an active civil rights probe by your office,” Adachi wrote. “At the very least, it would have signaled to SFPD officers that their practices were being monitored by an investigation that carried legal consequences.”
One week earlier, on May 12, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer accused an SFPD officer of perjury after surveillance contradicted his sworn testimony about the arrest and search of an African American man. A second officer appears to have perjured himself in a written report. The federal judge dismissed the case against the defendant and called the officer’s conduct “an affront to all of us.”
The police department’s policies and practices are currently under review by the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS.) The San Francisco District Attorney’s Blue Ribbon Commission recently completed its investigation. Both agencies may come up with recommendations, but are unable to enforce change.
Unlike both reviews, the state Attorney General’s office has the power to force reform and implement training through court order.
In a his initial request, sent April 4, Adachi detailed a near-constant stream of scandals involving the department’s use-of-force policies, racially lopsided enforcement strategies, and bigoted text messages exchanged between two separate groups of officers. He requested Harris investigate the department as former state Attorney General Jerry Brown probed the Maywood Police Department’s use of force policies in 2007. After finding multiple instances of wrongdoing, Brown secured a court order to force reforms.
In a response on social media, Harris said only that her office would monitor the progress of the voluntary review by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Enclosure: Letter from Adachi to Harris