Ex-officer in San Francisco text scandal pleads not guilty to unrelated charges

A former San Francisco police officer embroiled in a scandal over racist and homophobic text messages pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges he unlawfully accessed records from the Department of Motor Vehicles, prosecutors said.

Jason Lai pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor counts of unlawful access and use of criminal and Department of Motor Vehicle information, said Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

The charges of unlawfully accessing the database grew out of an investigation of a sexual assault allegation – ultimately unproven – against Lai.

Also found during the investigation were multiple text messages full of slurs and expletives referring to black, Indian, Latino, Muslim, gay and transgender people, in the second scandal in a year over slur-filled messages linked to local police.

Lai was one of several officers caught up in the latest texting scandal, which was disclosed last month by the District Attorney’s Office. Three officers, including Lai, are no longer with the department, and a fourth is facing possible discipline from the Police Commission.

Prosecutors said they did not have enough evidence to charge Lai in connection with the sexual assault allegation. But former San Francisco police Lieutenant Curtis Liu, who worked at the same station as Lai, was charged with making a false statement in a police report and obstructing a peace officer in connection with that investigation, said Matt Szabo, also a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.

Anthony Brass, an attorney for Liu, said in a voice message that his client, a 26-year veteran of the department, was free on bail of $21,000.

Last year, 14 officers were caught up in a similar texting scandal, prompting the review of thousands of cases as prosecutors sought to make sure evidence would not be tainted by the scandal.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)

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