Joel Babbs colleagues: Commander Greg McEachern, left, with Police Chief William Scott in center and Captain Paul Yep, right.
Commander Greg McEachern, left, with Police Chief William Scott in center and Captain Paul Yep, right, at the Town Hall meeting on Thursday in North Beach. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez.

All but one of the four charges leveled against Officer Joel Babbs by his employer, the San Francisco Police Department, were sustained by the Police Commission Wednesday night, and it was decided in an extended closed session that termination of the whistleblower cop is “warranted.” 

The case — which involves workplace allegations of sexual harassment and battery, spreading a false rumor in the workplace, false statements, and retaliation — is not yet closed. 

Although the commission voted to sustain the first three charges, Commissioner Cindy Elias, who presided over Babbs’ case, ordered both the police department and Babbs to present “findings” to the commission one more time, after which the commission will take an official vote regarding Babbs’ termination. Elias did not respond to requests for comment before this story was published.

Since Babbs has tenure with the SFPD of 30 years, he will retain access to the 90 percent of his salary he’s entitled to post-retirement, whether or not he’s terminated. However, since the commission is leaning toward terminating Babbs, he said he may resign to ensure other future career options remain available to him. In either case, he plans to sue the police department for $15 million and the Police Officers Association $5 million for non-representation. 

Babbs has maintained his innocence throughout the case, in which the first accusations date back to 2019. But his attorney assigned by the Police Officers Association — to which he paid over $50,000 in dues over his decades on the force — encouraged him to resign in the face of the allegations against him. When he refused to resign, Babbs said the POA terminated his legal benefits. Babbs provided a copy of the termination letter to Mission Local.

“As the letter that Mr. Babbs shared with the media demonstrates, the San Francisco Police Officers Association Legal Defense Plan provided him with extensive legal representation. Unfortunately, as the letter he released states, he repeatedly chose to ignore sound legal advice regarding the charges made against him,” read a statement to Mission Local attributed to Tracy McCray, vice president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. “Contrary to his assertion, the Plan continued to provide him representation even after he ignored the advice of seeking retirement in lieu of termination made based on the evidence against him. He chose to seek an attorney whose services would not be covered by the plan … ”

The statement went on to defend the POA’s eventual termination of Babbs’ benefits: “The legal plan has a fiduciary duty to ensure that its funds are used responsibly and according to the policies every member acknowledges, not to suit the whims of any single member. Our plan exists to ensure that every officer gets a fair shake if they face allegations, not to wave a magic wand and make their problems go away. If that is what Mr. Babbs was seeking, he probably should have sought the services of David Copperfield instead of a lawyer.”

Since Wednesday’s decision, Babbs has decided to seek legal counsel, but during his official trial in June, Babbs represented himself. His trial was held in open session during a June police commission meeting because he’d waived his right to a confidential session.

Appearing with his camera off for his videoconference trial, Babbs insisted the accusations that he sexually harassed a colleague were fabricated as part of a multi-year retaliatory effort to remove him from the department. 

The victim, he said, once a friend of his, was in on the smear campaign, but later tried to retract her accusations. After deliberation in closed session, the commission voted unanimously to continue the case until Wednesday night. 

In an interview with Mission Local after Wednesday’s decision, Babbs said, “My questions were, ‘How did you come to this conclusion? What did you base your decision on? How did you feel like this was a victim in this case, instead of co-conspirator?’ The victim here is me.” 

In 2016, Babbs reported racist comments and behavior within the San Francisco Police Department, an allegation that was sustained by the department in May, 2017. Then, Babbs alleges, a campaign of retaliation began against him, which he says is ongoing. 

On May 27, 2021, Babbs was placed on paid administrative leave. “The Department is concerned about your well-being in light of comments you recently made about threats against you. Therefore, I have determined to refer you for evaluation by the City’s designated physician,” read the letter from Police Chief Bill Scott. 

Police reform and anti-racism advocates, like members of the Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community organization, have rallied behind Babbs, claiming that his role as a whistleblower “creates a great deal of reasonable doubt that this has been a conspiracy against him,” as one public commenter said at last night’s meeting.  

Meanwhile, supporters of the department in this case held that, whistleblower or not, the victim and accuser must be heard and believed. One caller noted Babbs’ contentions — like the one that the Police Chief Bill Scott “brandished a gun” at him — is “a little far-fetched,” and asked Babbs to prove that he was not involved in the sexual harassment incidents he is accused of. 

Babbs, meanwhile, calls the accusations “heinous,” acknowledging that it is his word against that of his accuser. “This is such a travesty. This is such a railroading.”

Eleni Balakrishnan

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

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24 Comments

  1. Babbs is a confirmed whistleblower in a sustained complaint against the department, with an active lawsuit against the City & County. Now he is getting the boot for ? It would be interesting to know exactly why. All I’ve read is a “ he said she said “ kinda thing.

    The accuser must be heard and believed? And Babbs has to prove he wasn’t involved? So much for due process.

      1. Clyde, Please inform us readers how he overplayed his hand. The written articles surely do not give us any information that Off. Babbs has done so. I don’t come even remotely close to your assertion. Supply us with some data. The article does not give us enough to determine anything. How do you come to your conclusion?

  2. Racist comments made and racist actions taken by the SFPD ? Impossible. Not after 2016 when the Department pledged transparency and accountability. Not possible since at least 5 major reports, including one from the Department of Justice (pre-Trump) issued scathing accusations of racist practices against the SFPD and outlined over 200 immediate steps to be taken. And really, is there now or has there ever been a more staunchly anti-racist group than the POA? I am quite sure they did all they could, no doubt going the extra mile, before they were forced to terminate their representation of a black police officer/whistleblower. Can’t wait to read the next five or six reports backed by the Mayor, the DA, Chief Scott and the POA solemnly pledging police reform. Like the reports of 2015-16, they will provide hilarious distractions.

  3. Professional speech?

    The SFPOA has presented this kind of face to the public since Gary Delagnes took control there a couple of decades ago.

    Who can forget when they gave Patrol Special Chief, Jane Warner a ticket for jay-walking as she patrolled her own Castro beat on Halloween night?

    They then sent cops to literally harass her on her deathbed leaving her to die in tears.

    The City tried to make up for her harassment by on-duty cops by naming the Plaza where Castro meets Market after her but the cops have not changed.

    Biggest step citizens can make is to make the Office of Chief of Police of San Francisco back into an elected position.

    Great idea, but not mine.

    Carrying water on this one for former Sheriff Michael Hennessey.

    Go Giants!

    h,

  4. It is outrageous for someone to demand ge prove allegations are false. The City should have to prove them beyond a reasonable doubt.

    1. This officer defines “red flag” retire now, he opened the can of worms that are eating him

  5. As a whistleblower he has rights. It’s the tendency of the city and county of SF to bullied, discriminated or harrased anyone who dare to complain against their illegal HR or operational practices

  6. Officer Babbe has opened a can of worms by his own conduct.
    Know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away know when to run!
    Fold your hands Officer Babbe!

  7. You can’t prove a negative. It’s up to the accuser and PD to provide sufficient evidence of his crime. Was there any accusations or evidence prior to his whistle-blowing?

  8. What the fuck? PROVE his innocence? If this was a criminal case, they would need to prove he is guilt. FFS

  9. 30 years as a police officer, $50,000 in Police Officer’s Association fees over that time? That’s $1,667 dollars a year, or $139 a month. Wow, that is an expensive union.

    1. For a public employee union, which I was a part of, it’s not really. The legal representation is probably close to free. And based on the type of work he does, it’s necessary. It’s in the high side, but not way out there.

  10. If this hearing was open to the public, this article should include the allegations and evidence against the officer, so your readers have an opportunity to determine whether the findings were supported. You don’t seem to be telling the entire story here.

    Did the officer claim that the Chief of Police pointed a gun at him? That seems a bit difficult to believe, doesn’t it?

  11. Eleni – can you explain why you included Babbs’ race in the title? Is him being Black part of the story here? I’m not trying to make a point – genuinely asking because I don’t understand.

  12. Campers,

    Wanna get the cops in line?

    Send them all (including civilian personnel and dispatchers) …

    Send them all applications to apply for their jobs along with a notice that they will all be fired if they fail to reform and then fire them all!!

    They did this in a city back east (Hartford?) and 40% of the cops and assorted support staff were rehired.

    They got rid of the bums and complaints against violent and otherwise abusive cops has taken a dive.

    They don’t have time to reform?

    Let’s give them lots of free time.

    Go Giants!

    h.

  13. “Black SFPD whistleblower Officer Joel Babbs…”
    great to be back in the 1920s, where immutable characteristics like race are used to sensationalize headlines, suck in readers, and manipulate the resultant creation of inter-group tension.

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