By Curtis Skinner
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A San Francisco police sergeant involved the deadly shooting of a homeless man will no longer work in a unit set up to oversee reforms of the department, which has been under fire over a string of police shootings and racist text messages sent by officers.
Sergeant Nate Steger was transferred to the San Francisco Police Department's Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau within weeks of an April incident in which he and another officer shot and killed Luis Gongora, who witnesses said had been waving a knife, police spokesman Michael Andraychak said late Wednesday.
Amid criticism from Gongora's family and anti-police brutality activists, who questioned whether Steger would be able to implement reforms while under review himself, the sergeant agreed to be transferred to another unit, Andraychak said.
"Sgt. Steger agreed to be transferred from the Professional Standards Bureau," Andraychak said in a statement. "He understands the family's concerns."
The transfer was announced by Acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin at a meeting of the city's police commission on Wednesday night, Andraychak said. Steger's initial move into the bureau had been planned before the Gongora shooting, he said.
The trouble in the San Francisco Police Department came amid heightened racial tensions in the United States following protests sparked last week by police killings of black men in Baton Rouge and near St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as a sniper attack against police in Dallas that killed five officers.
The San Francisco department has been racked by scandals and protests since the December shooting of 26-year-old Mario Woods, a black man who was a suspect in a stabbing and whose shooting was videotaped. Since then, Gongora and a black woman named Jessica Williams have also been killed by police during altercations, prompting protests.
In Gongora's case, police said Steger and another officer responded to an April 7 call about the homeless man waving a knife, and shot him with multiple bean-bag rounds before opening fire with their handguns.
In addition, two separate scandals have broken out over racist and homophobic text messages sent by some officers to their colleagues within the past two years. The former police chief, Greg Suhr, resigned under pressure from Mayor Ed Lee.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Jonathan Oatis)