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

Nearly five years after he first filed a discrimination complaint about his police superiors, Officer Joel Babbs stood trial on Wednesday night for a handful of charges brought against him by the San Francisco Police Department, a move he considers retaliation for his initial charges.  

After Babbs and an attorney for the SFPD presented their cases to the Police Commission and the public, the commission went into closed session, during which they voted unanimously to continue the case until July 14, a decision likely stemming from the delicate nature of the case and a lack of tangible evidence presented by either side. 

The allegations themselves are worthy of a soap opera, though with serious implications. 

According to Internal Affairs Division documents, a female colleague, whose name was redacted for privacy, accused Babbs of harassment over the course of several days in May, 2019. Babbs alleges the colleague was his good friend, and was persuaded to make the accusation by a male employee with whom she was having an affair. The male employee, Babbs said during his trial, hopes to discredit him as part of a larger multi-year effort to remove him from the SFPD. 

SFPD attorney Steven Betz pointed to the credibility of the female witness, who has had a clean record during her employment with the department. Meanwhile, the male employee, who was the second witness against Babbs, is in an ongoing disciplinary case of his own for alleged racism. Neither witness was present for the trial. 

“We have to be pretty clear, because it was a sustained whistleblower case,” said Commissioner John Hamasaki, referring to the 2016 complaint by  Babbs, in which he reported racism and offensive comments by his superiors. “I do understand that there was some recorded incidents that were clearly highly problematic. And so I do have concerns about retaliation … This is not … one of our straightforward cases.”

Babbs, who is Black, first accused the SFPD of retaliation against him in June, 2017, after he reported the racist comments in October, 2016. The incidents, which involved recordings of supervisors bragging about violence against Black people, included offensive comments toward Babbs and other officers. Though it is unclear if disciplinary action was taken against the supervisors, Babbs’ accusations were sustained by the department in May, 2017. 

By June, 2017, Babbs said, the persecution and retaliation began. The first charges he faced were for allegedly falsifying vehicle registration tags and filing a false police report. These were suddenly dropped by prosecutors in February, 2018, but Babbs said the retaliation continues today. 

“Like, every month they put a new case on me,” Babbs told Mission Local on Wednesday. He believes it all stems from racism within the department and the desire to punish him for bringing misconduct to light. 

An officer with the SFPD for 30 years, Babbs said the entire case is “fabricated,” pointing both to the fact that he has only ever been accused of misconduct from within the police department, never while in the line of duty. 

After an initial criminal case against Babbs for sexual assault was closed in 2019, Babbs said he attended a conference downtown in early 2020. Afterward, Police Chief William Scott stripped Babbs of his gun and overtime, and investigations into the case resumed. 

New charges followed, “more heinous than the original charges” according to Babbs.

“I’m a whistleblower. I’ve never been afforded anything,” Babbs said. 

Babbs said his former lawyer, Murlene Randle, “turned on [him] in the worst way.” Randle removed herself from Babbs’ case in July, 2018, and is now a judge at the San Francisco County Superior Court. 

Fast-forward to a letter dated Feb. 23, 2021, which shows the Police Officers Association tried to persuade Babbs to resign and terminated his legal defense fund representation when he refused to do so. Babbs represented himself on Wednesday night. 

During public comment at the meeting, representatives from the Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community spoke in defense of Babbs. The community organization was one of Babbs’ biggest early advocates.

Babbs told Mission Local he plans to stay in the department as long as he can, in spite of mistreatment he alleges that he faces regularly, including surveillance and violent threats. A spokesperson for the SFPD declined to comment on Babbs’ claims.

“I won’t leave and … I keep fighting for myself,” he told Mission Local. He currently works in a non-public-contact position in the Investigations Bureau, according to the SFPD. 

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Eleni Balakrishnan

Eleni is our reporting intern focused on policing in San Francisco. She first came to the city over eight years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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7 Comments

  1. Hmn, the more this article goes on, the more it reads like tabloid journalism or a gossip column. It is all “worthy of a soap opera,” but with each successive paragraph’s single titillating detail, the reader is left with a mere list of episode titles. Like Hamasaki, “We need to be pretty clear, because…” there is enough here to genuinely suspect that Babbs is being railroaded and made incredible. But none of the leads are run down in an investigative journalistic kinda way. Babb’s situation then appears somewhat fantastic only by virtue of his various claims just sorta hanging in the air. Maybe it doesn’t call for a New Yorker level expo

  2. …se, but you leave your reader, finally, with more important questions than answers, here.

  3. Last year my former roommate who is a bisexual African American male reported sexual assault after a diabetic coma. The hospital staff in SF refused to call police on his behalf or document, diagnose and treat his injuries. They made him go to Ingleside Station. The police refused to document or investigate the matter. Allegedly another former roommate had her dog attack his genitals while he was in a diabetic coma. A doctor in the Midwest treated him for his injuries. I can put you in touch with him.

  4. The SFPOA whacked their former adversary, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, posthumously, attempting to defame his character in death by illegally leaking the police report to a sympathetic media intermediary who aided and abetted this cop crime.

    It is not news that the SFPOA is whacking any officer who challenges their racist organized crime operation. But when that officer is Black, had a sustained racist whistleblow, and was, get this, pressured to resign by the fucking SFPOA and left high and dry after, that’s yer news splash here.

    Our task is not so much to defund the SFPD and replace it with social services, rather to unplug this criminal SFPOA cartel that runs the SFPD so that is disconnected from any claim to color of public sector authority.

    1. Marcos,

      Don’t forget the cops hassling Patrol Special Chief, Jane Warner on her death bed.

      They’d ticketed her for ‘jaywalking’ while patrolling her own beat in the Castro on Halloween.

      They joined with Marin cops to harass and arrest a gay black Patrol Special officer who lived there.

      Fastest chance at Reformation?

      Fire the entire force and allow them to apply for their jobs back.

      City back east did it and while I don’t have the numbers in front of me, less than half the cops were rehired and things are peaceful w/the goons gone.

      Go Giants!

      h.

  5. Whistleblower is one case. The “ he said she said “ is another. Why is the department combining the two?

  6. Can you publish the letter that was sent so readers can see for themselves what is it the letter concerning the termination of benefits and who told Officer Babbs he should resign before being terminated. Also has he been terminated? It didn’t say on the Police Commission’s website. You can be a whistleblower but you can’t go around committing bad acts and expect to get away with it either just because you are a whistleblower.

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