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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