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Three retired judges will review around 3,000 arrests connected to 14 San Francisco Police Department officers who are under investigation for allegedly sending racist and anti-gay text messages, the city's top prosecutor announced Thursday.
The judges, who are not being paid, will also try to determine if 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," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said.
"If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers — that's one too many," Gascón said.
The judges will look at the circumstances of the 3,000 arrests to examine whether biases influenced arrest decisions, the decisions of prosecutors and potentially resulted in wrongful convictions.
The review is an expansion of an investigation that was launched after the issues came to light in March via a federal court filing in the case of former San Francisco police officer Ian Furminger, who has since been sentenced to 41 months in prison on a variety corruption-related charges.
Prosecutors, who learned of the texts in the filing, began an investigation and found messages from additional officers. At least 14 cops are currently under investigation, the district attorney’s office said.
The new probe is also part of a larger investigation following revelations of faulty testing at the crime lab, and allegations that San Francisco County Sheriff’s deputies forced inmates at the county jail to fight "gladiator-style."
The review of the arrests is limited to the officers allegedly involved in the inappropriate text messages, Gascón said. The judges are from outside San Francisco, the district attorney's office said.
"If we want the public to trust law enforcement we need a culture of justice, transparency and accountability — not bias, secrecy and impunity," Gascón said in a statement. "The actions of a few have undermined the public’s faith in the police officers who are sworn to protect us."
The investigation into the arrests is expected to be completed at end the year but would not be limited to that time frame, officials said.