(Reuters) - San Francisco prosecutors reviewing thousands of arrests linked to 14 police officers who traded racist and homophobic text messages have dismissed eight criminal cases in an ongoing review, the District Attorney’s Office said on Friday.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón created a task force of prosecutors to examine the integrity of 3,000 arrests involving the officers, whose text messages surfaced in March as part of a federal corruption probe. On Thursday he named three retired judges to join the group, suggesting they would bring an independent view to the cases.
About 1,600 of the arrests under review have resulted in prosecutions while the rest did not, said Max Szabo, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.
Eight of the cases, which were pending, have been dismissed because of bias concerns, Szabo said. He could not immediately provide more information on them.
“We’re most immediately concerned with people who are currently behind bars,” he said.
If an inmate’s conviction is found to have been improperly obtained because of bias by any officer, prosecutors will have the case dismissed and grant freedom to the person, Szabo said.
The racist and homophobic text messages among the police officers in one of the most liberal U.S. cities emerged during a federal investigation of a sergeant in the department.
The controversy they generated comes amid a series of fatal police confrontations across the country that have put law enforcement agencies under scrutiny over the use of force, especially against minorities, the poor and the mentally ill.
Micaela Davis, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, praised the attention Gascón’s office has given to the scandal, but said society needs to better understand policing bias and racial profiling.
“The discovery of these racist text messages only points to a much larger problem in both the San Francisco Police Department and police departments across the nation,” she said.
Officials at the District Attorney’s Office say they expect the task force to report on the integrity of the 3,000 arrests, which go back about 10 years, before the end of the year.
The task force also will look for broader signs of bias in the police force.
The city’s police chief has asked the Police Commission to fire several of the 14 officers he says engaged in the most egregious text messages.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Lambert