By Jim Christie
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Five more San Francisco police officers were found to be exchanging racist and homophobic text messages with one another, forcing a review of hundreds of criminal cases that may be compromised by their bias, the city's chief prosecutor said on Thursday.
The disclosure by District Attorney George Gascon came a year after 14 other members of the San Francisco Police Department were caught up in a similar texting scandal.
The latest inquiry surfaced amid heightened scrutiny of police encounters with members of minority groups following numerous high-profile killings of unarmed black people by police across the United States since mid-2014.
Gascon said he recommended in a letter on Wednesday to city Police Chief Gregory Suhr that the five newly implicated officers be assigned to desk duty to avoid adding to the potential caseloads tainted by personal bias exposed in their text messages.
But in a written reply to Gascon, the police chief said he had immediately suspended the officers when their conduct first came to his department's attention last August, and that two of the officers had since left the force.
Two others are facing termination proceedings, Suhr said in his letter, released by his department.
The dozens of bigoted texts were unearthed from 5,000 pages of material in an unrelated investigation, Gascon said in a telephone interview. With some 20,000 additional pages still to be examined, Gascon said more officers may be implicated.
Prosecutors have a duty to bring the texts to the attention of defense lawyers whose clients were charged in cases that were handled by the five officers and where discrimination based on race or sexual orientation could be at issue, Gascon said.
"They provide evidence of racial bias, which is impeachable evidence to the prosecution," he added.
The president of the San Francisco Police Officers' Association union, Martin Halloran, condemned “the appalling racist behavior committed by a handful of officers,” in a statement quoted by news media.
The conduct in question ran from 2014 to late 2015, overlapping with the time frame of last year's police texting scandal, although Gascon said there was no connection between the two.
The police department sought to fire seven of the original group of 14 officers, but a judge ruled against the dismissals, citing the statute of limitations.
The previous scandal resulted in a review of 4,000 cases, including 1,600 in which charges were brought, with 13 dismissals so far, city prosecutors said.
(Reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Peter Cooney)