San Francisco police officer Joel Babbs stands with his supporters outside of San Francisco's Hall of Justice on Nov. 15, 2017. Photo by Charlotte Silver

Covering the Police is a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Undeterred by rain, more than a dozen activists gathered on the steps of the Hall of Justice Wednesday morning in support of San Francisco police officer Joel Babbs, who was scheduled to appear in court for a pretrial hearing.

“I’m here to support a whistleblower who has called out, documented and exposed racism in the SFPD,” said John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee. “Until racism is out in the open, you can’t overcome it.”

Babbs was arrested in September and charged with two misdemeanor counts: falsifying his registration tabs and filing a false police report. But Babbs says the charges are a result of a heavy-handed retaliation against him for reporting his supervisors’ racist comments.

While working in SFPD’s Muni detail, Babbs, who is black, filed a complaint of discrimination in October of 2016 with the Equal Employment Opportunities Division at the Department of Human Resources.

In his complaint, he alleged that his supervising sergeant and lieutenant made offensive and racist comments.

In May 2017, the department sustained several of his accusations. Shortly before the Department of Human Resources concluded their investigation into Babbs’ complaint, the supervisors at the heart of his allegations left: one was reassigned and the other retired.

Then, in June, Joseph Minner, a criminal investigator with SFPD’s Internal Affairs, began an investigation into two of Babbs’ vehicles. It’s unclear what provoked the investigation. Babbs believes it was part of the effort to retaliate.

Minner investigated the cars for more than a month. He found that the registration for Babbs’ Ford Excursion had expired in June 2015, and Babbs had put the registration tabs for his Mercedes Benz on his Ford. Minner also found that the Ford’s smog certificate expired in Nov. 2015.

In addition, Minner had removed the license plate from Babb’s Ford during his investigation, leading Babbs to file a police report for a stolen license plate.

Babbs is now accused of filing a false police report — because, according to the SFPD, Babbs knew it had been removed as part of an investigation. He is also charged with falsifying his car registration.

On Wednesday morning, Babbs sat in the third row of the misdemeanor courtroom, watching on as the court cycled through at least 20 cases before his turn came.

His lawyer, Murlene Randle, a former prosecutor with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, approached the podium and explained to the judge that she was still making her way through the hundreds of pages in the criminal file against Babbs. She asked to defer the hearing until  Dec. 12, when she expects to have enough evidence to prove the allegations against Babbs are false.

“Their facts are incorrect,” Randle said outside the courtroom. Randle says she has records from the DMV that show Babbs had registered his Ford Excursion in May 2015 and had a valid Smog Certificate. Babbs does not dispute that the wrong tags were on his Ford, but says it was an accident and he never missed a payment for either of his cars.

Randle added that, in all her years leading prosecutions of some of the most serious crimes, including rape and murder, she had never received a file as big as the one the police generated against Babbs.

As for the false police report, Randle says, “What’s false?” Randle blames Minner for not properly reporting that he removed the license plate as part of an investigation.

“It will unravel once you show the facts,” she said.

Randle plans to move to dismiss all charges against her client at the hearing Dec. 12.

“I want to undo all of this,” she said. Babbs’ mugshot was sent to local media when he was arrested in September.

Meanwhile, Babbs is suing the city and county of San Francisco, the SFPD and the Police Commission for damages, alleging retaliation, harassment and discrimination.

“It shows blatant retaliation,” Randle says. “They looked at his property and credit records because they were looking for something.”

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