Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer, 08/11/2006

Eighteen San Francisco police officers who appeared last year in a video of skits that were denounced as racist and sexist by city officials have filed a $20 million lawsuit against the city.

The officers, who worked out of the Bayview Station, alleged that they have been defamed and discriminated against and say authorities excused several Asian officers involved in making the tapes.

The video skits, some of which were made public in December by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Chief Heather Fong, among other things depicted an officer running over a homeless woman and another male police officer pulling over a female motorist and ogling her.

At the time, Fong said the video showed “shameful and despicable acts” by officers while on duty and immediately suspended two dozen officers. All returned to work after five days without pay, but eight of the officers are still assigned to desk jobs.

The 18 suing officers, including women, African Americans and Latinos, are referred to in the suit as “non-Asian” or “perceived non-Asian.”

They say Fong and the city acted against them while ignoring four Asian officers — including one who appears as an Asian gang member on one of the videos — who were neither suspended nor transferred to desk duty.

“It’s clear to me, race was a factor,” said the officers’ lawyer, Waukeen McCoy. “My clients were disciplined and the Asians were not. The department acted toward them more favorably — they participated in the video and were not treated the same.”

Sgt. Neville Gittens, a police department spokesman, said no one has been disciplined in the case and the suspensions involved were merely procedural. He said any officer who is later cleared of charges is entitled to reimbursement for the unpaid time spent on suspension.

As to the charges about the Asian officers not being singled out, Gittens said the department “does not tolerate any form of discrimination.”

He said the disciplinary investigation is nearing its end.

Mayor Newsom said he was disappointed that the officers filed a lawsuit. “It’s unfortunate that they’re trying to extract tens of millions of dollars based on actions they took that precipitated the response from the police chief, not the other way around,” he said.

Matt Dorsey, spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said the officers’ suit appears to be without merit.

“It’s been a long, difficult time. … My spirit as a police officer has been crushed,” said Officer Wendy Hurley, one of the officers who is suing, along with her boyfriend, Andrew Cohen.

Cohen, an amateur filmmaker, made the videos and put them on his Web site after a police captain told him not to show them at the Bayview Station Christmas party.

Cohen said Thursday he has had his pistol taken away and is assigned to desk duty. “We are wasting away as highly paid paper pushers,” he said.