4 San Jose police officers put on leave amid investigation into alleged racist Facebook posts

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Four San Jose police officers have been placed on administrative leave while their department investigates a private Facebook group comprised by active and retired officers that allegedly includes racist and bigoted comments.

The San Jose Police Department will seek assistance from the FBI in an investigation into the officers' alleged comments on the "10-70DSJ" Facebook group, the department said Saturday.

"I have previously responded with discipline up to termination after an investigation into off duty online activity that runs counter to our standards of conduct," Police Chief Eddie Garcia said. "While I have no control over what former employees post online, I can voice my outrage after hearing about these comments made online."

Garcia joined San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo in condemning posts on the Facebook group that were aimed at Muslims and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Mayor Sam Liccardo spoke to ABC7 Saturday afternoon, and he told us he has spoken to the police chief. "He's furious as I am. He wants to get rid of any officers who are directly involved with this kind of racist, Islamophobic kind of conduct, and expect he's going to fire any officer that's directly involved," he said.

Mayor Liccardo is calling for reform to allow San Jose to deal with this kind of misconduct.

"Thirty seven police departments learned that more than 450 police officers who had been fired by their chiefs for severe and extreme conduct like this had been reinstated by unaccountable arbitrators. This has got to change, not just here in San Jose, but every police department in the country," he said.

Liccardo says the incidents date back to 2010 and it's not clear what, if any action, could be taken against officers who have retired.

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Civil rights attorney Zahra Billo serves as the Executive Director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Billoo says what makes this newest case of alleged police misconduct so troublesome, is that one of the officers accused, conducted anti-bias police trainings for the San Jose Police Department.

"So we are wondering, how many other officers knew and stood by and did nothing, knowing that these officers had a level of bigotry that endangered the communities that they are charged with protecting?" asks Billoo. "How many officer participated in actually department trainings conducted by these officers? I am having a really hard time believing that this secret Facebook group that has been around for a number of years, was just discovered."

She says CAIR has been in contact with the city and is now calling for an expedited investigation and that those found guilty be terminated, that the police union be involved in crafting legislation around reforming police, and calling for a review of all the cases and investigations these officers were connected to, in an effort to make sure there was no bias.

"Who might be sitting in jail because what looked like an objective stop, what looked like a clean interaction, may actually have been driven by bigotry. So whose cases need to be re-looked, at is a very important question for us," explains Billoo.

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Billoo argues this is not just a case of "some bad apples" and that it goes beyond free speech.

"These officers were engaged in online conversation about harming people who are supporting Black Lives Matter. Harming Muslim women who wear hijab. The First Amendment does not extend to threats of violence and harm against communities. Period," says Billoo.

She says that the growing number of alleged cases of police misconduct creates more fear among vulnerable communities, adding, "Unfortunately, exposures like this one, further entrench peoples concern. 'I am afraid of law enforcement. Oh wait, they are racist against my people and they have joked online about hurting my people, why would I call them if I face a hate crime?'"

As a result, the hate crime counts may be higher than the current statistics reflect.

The officers' alleged comments were revealed by a Medium post published Friday titled "Racism and Hate behind the Blue Wall: Exposing Secret Law Enforcement Facebook Groups."

The author, described only as the partner of an active San Jose officer, said they were driven to speak out after a recent blog post by racial justice activist Shaun King describing a plot by former law enforcement members to kill him.

The Medium article listed examples of alleged bigoted and racist posts by San Jose officers. Some included threatening comments about Muslim women with one officer posting "I say re-purpose the hijabs into nooses."

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The same officer posted an image of a 'Sharia Barbie,' depicting a doll with a black eye that "comes with a hijab, bruises, a Quran, and stoning accessories," according to the Medium article.

In the Facebook group, one retired officer describes Black Lives Matter activists as "racist idiots," "un-American" and " 'enemies' that the police 'swore an oath against'," the Medium article states.

Another current officer commented that "Black lives don't really matter."

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called for an investigation and said any officer who posted racist comments would be fired.

"I demand and expect a full investigation, and further expect that racist, anti-Muslim or menacing comments expressed by any current SJPD Officer will be met with termination," Liccardo said Friday.

The San Jose Police Officer Association president Paul Kelly denounced the posts and said the union wouldn't shelter the officers.

"I am announcing tonight that I am taking swift action against any member of the SJPOA that has participated in this online ring of hate because there is zero room in our department or our profession for racists, bigots or those that enable them," Kelly said in a video post.

Bay City News contributed to this report.
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