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.”