SFPD Chief Scott Confirms That Racist Pro-Derek Chauvin Instagram Account Did Not Originate Within The San Francisco Police Department
UPDATE (Monday, August 2, 2021): SFPD responded to SF Watch and confirmed that the department’s Risk Management Division conducted an investigation into the anonymous Instagram account and determined that the operator of the account was not a person associated with SFPD nor a person with a law enforcement background. The motivation for creating the account remains unclear. We appreciate the SFPD’s quick response to our request.
Going by the handle “StDerekChauvin,” a now-deleted Instagram account posted a series of disturbing images and comments ostensibly in support of Derek Chauvin, the now-convicted police officer who murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis in March 2020. The StDerekChauvin account was operated by a person who claimed to be a San Francisco police officer, and even posted multiple close-up shots of an SFPD uniform and badge.
In one of the photos, Chauvin’s badge number -- 1087 -- is painted onto a gun holster and shown alongside a San Francisco Police Department badge. In a second photo posted to the StDerekChauvin account, which similarly displayed a San Francisco Police Department badge, there is a handwritten note that reads: “Derek Chauvin is a hero.”
The StDerekChauvin Instagram account operator also claims to have been disciplined by the San Francisco Police Department in 2020, which he chalked up to “too much protests and riots” where “they [presumably the San Francisco residents who attended these protests] want to complain about everything.” In the course of arguing that Derek Chauvin’s long-list of citizen complaints is not abnormal over the course of a long career, the account operator also claimed that he had been the subject of more complaints than Chauvin.
“#DerekChauvinHero” reads one post celebrating Chauvin. Another post reads: “Derek Chauvin is a hero, he deserves a medal from MPD and the respect of the black community.” “Officers and departments want to be like Derek Chauvin,” reads a third post which includes an illustration of the now-infamous photo showing Chauvin (pictured white and deer-headed) kneeling on Floyd (pictured Black and wolf-headed), apparently signifying the idea of the prey trapping the predator.
The account was active during the final months of 2020 and through the early months of 2021, before it was deleted.
"If an SFPD officer did make these posts, it would only be the latest in the long list of scandals and shameful killings by police that have plagued policing in this city,” said Celi Tamayo-Lee, interim co-director of San Francisco Rising, to SF Watch.
SF Watch attempted to independently verify the authenticity of the equipment shown in the posts, asking multiple people familiar with SFPD standard-issue uniform and gear, including a high ranking source within the department, to review the items shown in the posts. From this review, it appears that the shirt, patch, and badge are SFPD issue, but parts of the belt, and radio, are potentially older equipment. Sources told us that this raises at least three potential scenarios: This account originated within the SFPD, potentially from a more senior staff member who has been in the ranks longer and has older equipment in their possession still. Two, this account originated from someone outside of SFPD who has gotten their hands on SFPD equipment and went out of their way to identify as SFPD. Or three, the account was operated by someone who is fully retired from SFPD or who is no longer on active patrol duty.
SFPD acting captain Yulanda Williams, who is also president of police accountability group Officers for Justice, said it was important to remain skeptical of the authenticity of these kinds of accounts, but that, given this sordid history within the department, Williams also said it was imperative that SFPD Chief Scott commits to a full, thorough and transparent investigation into the account. “SFPD has a responsibility to do due diligence here and investigate this -- there should also be a Department of Police Accountability investigation as well. That is the least we should expect to be done.” Williams, who is Black, found herself personally targeted by racist and sexist text messages from more than a dozen fellow officers during the 2011 “textgate” scandal that rocked the department. “These things consistently happen at SFPD, ongoing violations of social media policy with discipline and investigations beginning and ending based on who is doing the violating instead of complete accountability. That is, and has been, a problem with this department.”
“This Instagram account is very plausibly from an officer at SFPD, it's entirely consistent with what we saw on commission with text message scandals involving racism,” said Bill Hing, professor of law and migration studies at the University of San Francisco and a former commissioner of the San Francisco Police Commission. “This deserves a serious investigation. We should find out who it is and I believe that person should be fired. Whenever something like this comes to light, it’s just another reason why people of color don’t trust the police. That is why we need to find out who did this and show the public that we don’t condone it. And hopefully in the process people will find out that most police are trustworthy. This has a terrible potential if something isn’t done.”
Like Hing and Williams, Tamayo-Lee from SF Rising also indicated in a statement provided to SF Watch that they support an investigation.
SF Watch reached out to San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott to inquire whether the department will be investigating whether this account originated within the San Francisco Police Department and, if so, whether any discipline will be forthcoming. Chief Scott did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
For Chief Scott, this scandal emerges at a time where the police department struggles to turn the page on a history of racial bias and misconduct within its ranks. In 2016, in response to a number of SFPD police shootings of civilians, the U.S. Department of Justice launched a probe, which found “outdated use-of-force policies,” a “lack of accountability measures,” and “disparities in traffic stops, post-stop searches, and use of deadly force against African-Americans.” The Department of Justice concluded “there are numerous indicators of implicit and institutionalized bias against minority groups” inside the San Francisco Police Department. Then, in 2020, the California Attorney General released findings saying that the California DOJ “remains concerned with reports of anti-Black bias within the department and with persistent disproportionate use of force against African-American and Latino individuals.”
Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant with the Redondo Beach Police Department in California, told SF Watch that it is critically important to determine whether an officer within the department did operate the StDerekChauvin page, because these kinds of anonymous accounts not only endanger the lives of police officers, they can lead to a sustained and serious erosion of community trust in the police department.
“I am not surprised, but I am appalled by this account. This should be immediately investigated by the San Francisco Police Department, just as other law enforcement agencies have done in the past,” Goldstein said. “Simply by the authority placed in police officers, we should absolutely be held to a higher standard. These anonymous kinds of accounts are a real issue that we have to deal with effectively and hold people accountable.”