San Francisco police: From racist texts to obstruction charges

Story highlights

  • Ex-officer accused of protecting fellow officer who was investigated in rape case
  • Officer being investigated was found to have sent racist and homophobic texts

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(CNN)One day after San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr apologized to the public for racist and homophobic texts sent by some of his officers, the department took another public relations hit Wednesday when a former lieutenant was charged with obstructing a rape investigation.

The charges against Lt. Curtis Liu stem from his involvement in a sexual assault investigation targeting Jason Lai, the former officer at the center of the department's ongoing texting scandal. Lai was being investigated for sexual assault last year, for which he was not charged. In a statement, San Francisco police said that Liu may have "engaged in conducted that interfered with the investigation."
    During the probe, investigators discovered racist and homophobic texts on his phone. CNN detailed some of the texts in a report published Tuesday.
    Liu was charged with making a false statement in a police report, a felony, and two misdemeanor counts of obstructing or delaying a police officer, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced.
    He was arrested Wednesday, according to police.
    "A willingness to cover up allegations of a crime as serious as rape is not an acceptable quality in any police officer," Gascon said in a statement.
    The district attorney's press release did not name Lai as the suspect in the rape investigation, but a law enforcement official familiar with the matter confirmed for CNN that the charges against Liu stemmed from his handling of the rape allegations against Lai.
    Liu's attorney, Tony Brass, said Liu "understands this was not conduct he should have engaged in" and retired from the department as a result.
    He said the officer was not acknowledging guilt.
    "We're at the beginning of this process, so I don't want to comment on the evidence in the case," Brass said.
    In addition, Brass acknowledged that Liu received text messages sent by one or more officers implicated in the recent scandal. He said Liu did not send any himself.
    "He did make an effort to get at least one fellow officer to stop sending those texts, but he fell short in that he didn't take official action to discipline him via the official mechanisms in the department and he absolutely understands that he should have done that," Brass said.
    Former San Francisco police officer Jason Lai.
    Liu was a lieutenant at the SFPD's Taraval Station when he learned of a rape case in which a person named Jason Lai was being investigated.
    According to the charges announced Wednesday, Liu told Lai that a person with his same name had just been accused of rape.
    Though Lai confirmed to the lieutenant that he was the person who had been accused, Liu "engaged in a series of actions designed to keep the investigation from focusing on the officer," prosecutors said.
    "These actions included lying to his subordinates and superior officers about the fact that he had contacted the suspect-officer, and permitting the police report regarding the rape to be filed with the suspect listed as "unknown."
    Prosecutors declined to file rape charges against Lai, citing insufficient evidence. It is unclear whether Liu's alleged obstruction hindered the prosecution.
    Lai resigned earlier this month after Gascon's office announced he was implicated in the texting scandal, the department's second in as many years.
    Four officers are accused of sending or receiving racist and homophobic texts. Three of the four have since left the department. The fourth is facing disciplinary charges.
    Lai is accused of disparaging blacks, Hispanics and Indians, as well as members of the gay community, in a series of texts sent in 2014 and 2015.
    The CNN report detailed some of the officer's caustic language:
    "I hate that beaner," one text reads, "but I think the nig is worse."
    "Indian ppl are disgusting," proclaims another.
    "Burn down the walgreens and kill the bums," a third message states.
    Don Nobles, Lai's attorney, said the texts were "not reflective of who he is" and that "there is no evidence he carried out any of those sentiments as an officer."
    After that report and a press conference by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who detailed the same material for other reporters, Suhr called a press conference and apologized to the public.
    He said reading the texts made him "sick to my stomach."
    "We are better than this," he said, and vowed to send officers department-wide to a bias training program by year's end.
    Liu is expected to be arraigned later this week, according to prosecutors.