SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Four active San Jose police officers were placed on administrative leave Saturday as the department launched an investigation into a “closed” Facebook group where racist comments and posts were made.
The department has also asked the FBI to join the investigation.
“Four of our officers have been placed on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted,” said Officer Gina Tepoorten, the department’s spokesperson, in an e-mail to KPIX. “The San Jose police department will be seeking assistance from the FBI regarding this matter.”
On Friday night, the San Jose Police Officers Association issued a statement that several active and retired San Jose police officers participated in the Facebook group.
SJ POA president Paul Kelly said in the statement: “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…”
The private Facebook group was first revealed by someone claiming to be the partner of a Bay Area law enforcement officer and the troubling comments were published in an article posted Friday on the online website Medium.
The article points to a number of public and private Facebook posts mocking “Black Lives Matter” — describing members as “racist idiots” and “enemies.” One user condemns any Facebook friends who support or participate in the movement.
There are also posts mocking protesters. One user wrote: “black lives don’t really matter.” Members of the Muslim community are also the subject of many posts. One person wrote: “I say re-purpose the hijabs into nooses” and added a smiling emoji.
Kelly said his organization would file charges to expel the officers participating in the Facebook group from the police union.
San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said any active-duty officers involved should 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,” the mayor wrote in a statement.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen condemned the officers in a statement Friday night.
“What I just read sickened me and made me sick for our entire community. No one who expresses these type of disgusting, racist comments should ever wear a badge. This Office’s Conviction Integrity Unit will immediately begin a comprehensive review of every case in which these officers – active or retired – played a role. Anyone who writes this kind of trash has no role in our criminal justice system.”
San Jose police chief Eddie Garcia also responded late Friday night, saying in a statement: “While I have no control over what former employees post online, I can voice my outrage after hearing about these comments made online. Any current employee involved with bigoted activity online will promptly be investigated and held accountable to the fullest extent in my power.”
But community members say that’s not enough and won’t solve the problem.
Raj Jayadev with Silicon Valley De-Bug, said the problem is not isolated to the four officers who are under investigation.
“This is a culture of racism that is baked into the structure of the San Jose Police Department,” said Jayadev. He said it’s time to clean house, from top to bottom
“Fire every police officer in the San Jose police department; dismantle that department and invite the community to have a larger conversation on what public safety for all means,” Jayadev told KPIX.
“I think without a complete overhaul, there’s not going to be a change,” said Pastor Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose and Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP. He said this latest incident has eroded trust in the police department and the police chief. Moore said Chief Garcia should be fired and he questioned whether or not it’s true SJPD leadership was unaware of the racist posts, since some of them dated back to 2010.
“I would really recommend (the officers) be de-certified from policing and not allowed to practice policing anywhere,” Pastor Moore said.
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the Bay Area said the city should also re-examine the criminal cases that involved the affected officers.
“These police officers aren’t just racist inside their heads. They have vocalized their racism online explicitly without shame and even engaged in threats of violence,” Billoo said.
Mayor Liccardo said he won’t dismantle the police department but he’s pushing for reforms that will make it easier to fire bad officers.
“I released a set of reforms a week ago that specifically calls for reforming the arbitration process to ensure it’s more accountable and more transparent and I also call for essentially eliminating the internal affairs department. Let’s move investigations outside the San Jose police department when we’re investigating cops who are alleged to be involved in unlawful use of force or racially-discriminatory conduct. Let’s make sure that we are not relying on cops to police the police,” the mayor said.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. KPIX 5’s Da Lin and Betty Yu contributed to this report