ONLY ON ABC7NEWS.COM: San Francisco cop at center of texting scandal speaks out

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ByVic Lee KGO logo
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
EXCLUSIVE: SF cop at center of texting scandal speaks out
The officer at the center of a San Francisco Police Department texting scandal sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC7 News to declare he is not a racist and that the messages were "meant to be funny."

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The officer at the center of a San Francisco Police Department texting scandal sat down for an exclusive interview with ABC7 News and declared he is not a racist. Of course, none of the cops wanted their outrageous texts splattered all over television. But whether public or private, most everyone agrees that it sends a terrible message and damages an already tense relationship between the public and police.

The text messages are graphic and offensive. One text asked, "Do you celebrate Kwanza at your school?" And the response was, "Yeah. We burn the cross on the field. Then we celebrate whitemas."

Federal prosecutors released dozens of racist and homophobic texts when they became public during a bail hearing for former Officer Ian Furminger, who was convicted for public corruption late last year. His crimes include stealing money and drugs from dealers, among others. He's appealing that conviction, saying he was framed. And now he's embroiled in another scandal. In this one, he's accused of texting racist and homophobic messages to other cops. On Tuesday, amidst all the uproar, he wanted to get his side of the story out.

Furminger: "If I offended anybody I'm sorry. Truly, truly sorry. However, it's banter amongst friends."

Lee: "If you look at it on the surface, superficially it's offensive."

Furminger: "Of course it is! But it wasn't open to public disclosure."

The former officer says the text messages are being misinterpreted by a public that does not know who he really is.

"My best friends and closest friends are all black, gay, Chinese or Asian, and Hispanic," Furminger said. "That's who I socialize with. That's who I spend my time with."

He went on to say, "Those texts are not a reflection of who I am. It's a rebound reaction to a politically correct environment."

Furminger say he grew up in the racially diverse East Bay, went to a mostly black high school, and never had a racial complaint while as a cop.

"For anybody to call me a racist? I swear to God, I'll get a thousand people in there to say that I'm not," he said. "It's tough. That's not the reflection of who I am."

Last December, Furminger was convicted of public corruption in a federal court. The veteran cop is out on bail and is appealing his 41 month prison sentence.

The offensive texts were released by federal prosecutors during a bail hearing last week. The four other officers have been reassigned to units with no public contact while the department investigates the scandal.

"These were supposed to be funny, not to be broadcast on the news," Furminger said.

But those who have spoken out publicly condemn the texts as racist and homophobic. They include Officers for Justice, a group formed by black San Francisco officers.

"It brought great harm to not only the members of the San Francisco Police Department, but to our cities, to our families, and to the children," said Sgt. Yolanda Williams, president of Officers for Justice.

Lt. Valerie Matthews, vice president of the group, was more blunt in her reaction to Furminger's statements.

"I think Ian Furminger is a liar," she said. "This was not a casual conversation. This was deep-rooted hate and racism."

Williams added, "There are not enough words he can convey at this point to apologize to the members of this department that he has affected."

Sources tell ABC7 News that the police department is looking at other officers who are on Furminger's texts. They include a captain. But these same sources say they may have just been caught up in the mounds of evidence which the federal prosecutors released as part of the case, and these may have just been routine text messages not racially motivated.

In the meantime, Public Defender Jeff Adachi believes some cases will be dismissed because of the texting scandal. At a news conference Tuesday, Adachi said his office is going review 10 years of cases. So far they've gone through 2.5 years and found 120 cases involving two of the officers.

According to Adachi, the problem is the officers' accounts of what happened during investigations will now be called into question.

"It's highly unlikely, I think, a judge would not believe that an officer who made these kind of statements or engaged in this kind of banter would not be biased in his perceptions," Adachi said. "No prosecutor is gonna want to put them on the stand. Those cases are likely going to be dismissed."

Adachi said his office is working on a series of reforms he hopes the police department will implement, which will include racial sensitivity training.