The police chief in San Francisco issued an emotional public apology Tuesday after reports surfaced that a former officer sent and received racist and homophobic text messages over a two-year period.
Officer Jason Lai referred to African-Americans as “wild animals” and American Indians as “disgusting.” In one text obtained by CNN, Lai said: “I hate that beaner, but I think the nig is worse.”
The six-year veteran, who resigned this month, also used “coded language” to talk about his fellow officers who are gay, and made disparaging remarks about the city’s largely minority and lower income Tenderloin district, the cable news network reported.
Three other San Francisco officers implicated in the texting scandal have resigned and a fourth faced disciplinary charges, according to a department spokesman.
The racist texting scandal is the second of its kind in two years. It surfaced just 10 weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced a review of the San Francisco Police Department’s training and practices following the shooting late last year of a young black man.
“I apologize to the public,” Greg Suhr, the city’s embattled police chief, said of the latest texting scandal at a press conference on Tuesday. “We are better than this.”
In one text, Lai made a disparaging joke about President Barack Obama and says he hates basketball player LeBron James. “Fuck that nig,” the police officer texted.
The text messages discovered on Lai’s phone were sent in 2014 and 2015 to his fellow officers and friends. They were discovered during an investigation of Lai who was accused, but not charged, with sexually assaulting a woman last year.
The police chief said texts sent by three other officers, who have since left the department’s ranks, were “no less reprehensible” than those sent by Lai. Suhr said he will have “no tolerance for officers who hold such reprehensible views,” CNN reported.
“The message is clear to both the officers in the department and the public: We will not have this in the San Francisco Police Department,” the chief said.
“The culture of this police department is, you demonstrate yourself to be a racist and a homophobe, and you’re not going to be a police officer in San Francisco,” Suhr said.
Every one of San Francisco’s 2,100 officers will undergo “bias training” by the end of the year, the police chief said.
After the sexual assault investigation, prosecutors declined to file rape charge because of what they said was insufficient evidence.
However, Lai subsequently has been charged with multiple misdemeanor counts for allegedly illegally accessing Department of Motor Vehicles computers for a nonofficial purpose. His arraignment on those charges is set for Tuesday.
In one of the text exchanges referring to African-Americans, Lai wrote: “They’re like a pack (of) wild animals on the loose.”
That texting occurred last year during civil unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, who died after suffering head and neck injuries in the back of a police van.
In another exchange, Lai referred to a police sergeant as “passive aggressive 528.” CNN reported that number – code for a fire call – is coded language used to describe gay officers as “flames or flaming,” according to the CNN report.
Lai’s attorney identified him as a Chinese American.
In a series of texts sent last June, the officer made several references to “hock gwai,” including a “bunch of hock gwais shooting each other.” The CNN report said that’s an apparent misspelled reference to the Cantonese term “hak gwai,” which is a derogatory phrase for African-Americans.
“Sprained my ankle over these barbarians,” Lai texted.