The Santa Clara County Attorney’s Office announced today that it plans to dismiss criminal cases handled by San Jose cops who made bigoted comments on Facebook.
DA Jeff Rosen reached the decision after a 20-member team spent the past three months reviewing hundreds of cases directly involving five SJPD officers whose hateful comments were first reported by San Jose Inside/Metro Silicon Valley.
“In late June, a journalist with the Metro newspaper reported the existence of a Facebook group that includes numerous law enforcement officers, retired and active,” Rosen’s office explained in a news release sent to reporters this morning. “While the Facebook group was largely concerned with mundane topics, some posted virulently racist, sexist, anti-Muslim and bigoted comments. The probe identified five police officers who were active at the time if the postings.”
The DA’s Office responded to the news story by compiling a list of every case in which one of those officers had been called as a witness. Prosecutors identified 14 cases in which they say the integrity had been “so compromised that the office can no longer stand by the conviction.” All involved misdemeanors.
For dozens more cases, however, the DA will alert defendants about the involvement of those five officers to give them a chance to challenge the convictions.
The DA has also promised to alert all relevant parties if any of those cops are called to testify in pending or future cases.
Rosen’s office sent out dozens of letters—one of which you can read here—to defense attorneys and the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office about the dismissals, with offers to hear more information on other cases linked to those five officers—whose names were not included in the press release. Prosecutors committed to dismissing even more cases as further evidence arises.
“Our community has the right to feel secure that the criminal cases we file in this county are untainted by prejudice,” Rosen said in a prepared statement. “I have the obligation to ensure these cases are untainted by prejudice.”
Public Defender Molly O’Neal said she’s pleased that the DA conducted a thorough review and is going forward with dismissals on 14 cases.
“We just got the list this morning, but our next steps will be to contact those clients and work with the court to identify a process to recall the cases and get them dismissed,” she told San Jose Inside in an email. “We have identified an additional 36 cases that we are reviewing, including some felony cases. We will go back to the DA with information on those cases which may include statements from our clients about being pulled over for no reason, harassed while questioned, or including racist comments that may have been made during interaction with those officers. We are convinced there will be more dismissals. From our perspective, any case those officers touched should be drilled down on with extreme care as the officers have no credibility and shouldn’t have been on the streets in uniform and wearing a badge.”
That said, O’Neal added, she believes the DA didn’t go far enough.
“We want an audit of SJPD to determine the depth of the racist culture there, and we want the Independent Police Auditor to be given greater power and authority to investigate and discipline racist and bigoted and corrupt officers,” O’Neal went on to say. “The public should be proud of the development, but it can’t stop there. If these officers were so emboldened as to post the racist vitriol on public websites, there is a culture problem that needs to be eradicated.”
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo commended the DA for the move.
“As a former prosecutor, I know too well that criminal convictions often turn on the credibility of one or two key witnesses, and a police officer’s expressions of racism and bigotry undermine that credibility,” he said through a spokeswoman. “The decision today isn’t about political correctness; it’s about the integrity of our criminal justice system.”
SJPD Chief Eddie Garcia said he, too, agrees with the DA’s move for dismissal—at least for misdemeanor cases.
“The scrutiny officers are receiving regarding inappropriate behavior is warranted, and in this instance, I understand the DA’s office decision to seek dismissal in minor cases,” he said. “We are also holding any officer found to have acted inappropriately accountable through our internal investigations.”
SJPD declined to offer any additional information about the outcome of an internal probe into the officers’ conduct, citing the confidentiality of ongoing personnel investigations.
The comments came to light in late June, when the partner of an active-duty SJPD officer wrote a blog post citing numerous examples of hate speech against Muslims, protesters and Black Lives Matter posted online by current and retired San Jose cops.
Among the posters were SJPD traffic cop Mark Pimentel—one of the officers who policed the George Floyd protests this past summer—who joked about how he would have pulled a hijab over a woman’s face. Sgt. Chris Sciba was mentioned for posting memes that seem to conflate terrorism with Islam.
A post in May of 2019 by Sgt. Fabrice Bellini featured a fake commemorative coin he made mocking “District Lincoln” in San Jose, a beat comprising mostly Vietnamese and Latino residents as well as large concentrations of homeless encampments. “Stinkin’ Lincoln: To Hell and Back Every Night,” it read.
Other officers implicated in the bigoted comment threads included retirees Steve Wilson and Sgt. Rick Foster.