‘Living Hell': Accused San Francisco Police Officer Claims Whistleblower Retaliation

A San Francisco police officer facing misdemeanor charges of vehicle registration fraud and making a false police report claims that the latest accusations follow months of departmental retaliation for alleging racism in the ranks.

"It’s been (a) living hell," Joel Babbs told NBC Bay Area. "How dare you have the audacity to make a complaint? We’re going to ruin you. We’ll ruin you. "

In a statement, spokesman David Stevenson said of Babbs’ claims: "We are aware of these allegations, which are under investigation. The investigation uncovered evidence that led to charges being filed last week. Because this is an ongoing, internal investigation, we cannot comment any further."

Babbs, 56, known as JB, said the trouble started when he gave Internal Affairs the two cell phone videos he took at the police department’s Muni transit division, which based at the Hall of Justice.

In one of the videos taken in October, the lieutenant in the unit cautions against anyone dismissing the Department of Justice report’s findings that San Francisco police officers were stopping a disproportionate number of black motorists. At the same time, he describes a vehicle stop of suspected gang members who could be armed.

"You know as a cop, I’m asking those guys, because they look f—ing dirty," the lieutenant said. "But what they see, what they see is you pulled over two black men, and you ask them if you are on probation and parole."

Babbs, a 26-year veteran officer, was outraged. "They had a gun, they should have known because they looked dirty," Babbs said derisively.

"They were dirty, they looked dirty — as he referred to black occupants in a vehicle — that that’s why I say he’s racist, that’s the nature of the complaint. When listening to the video, over and over, he says some very, what I feel, are some very racist things toward black people. ’’

In a separate roll call video, the same lieutenant appears to boast about a clash he said he had with a black woman suspect in the Bayview district.

"If you ever see her, she’s missing a tooth from me," he says on the recording, adding later: "I went to handcuff her and she grabbed my hand, so I f—ing grabbed (her) finger and snapped it."

Babbs said he felt compelled to act based on the comments the lieutenant and a sergeant said during roll call.

"I couldn’t live with myself," if he had not complained, Babbs said. "I couldn’t live with myself, knowing every day this person comes to work and feels that about people like me."

Babbs said he naively expected that the department would investigate the videos and act upon what was said.

"I thought it was over — I thought it would be resolved," he said.

In March, Babbs says, he was questioned by Internal Affairs about improperly taping roll call sessions. The two supervisors were also moved out of the unit.

Babbs said that is when he began to be ostracized and was kept from overtime assignments. In May, the city's Department of Human Resources concluded that its "investigative findings were sufficient to establish that you were subjected to retaliation" for being a whistleblower.

Two months later, Babbs was stripped of his gun and star and assigned to paid leave. While the police department’s letter does not specify the basis for the order, Babbs said the department’s doctor told him why.

"People in my unit were scared of me," he said.

Last week, Babbs said, he was "booked like I’m a criminal." But he says that he is only guilty of putting the wrong registration sticker on the wrong car.

"There’s no victim here, there’s no intent here," he said.

As for the false police report allegation, he said he was simply reporting that his license plate had been taken without a search warrant.

Babbs' attorney, Murlene Randle, said her client is being targeted for standing up.

"I’m just proud that Officer Babbs has decided to stand his ground," she said. "I’m disappointed at what he’s been through what he’s being put through. It not only breaks his heart, it breaks my heart."

After news broke of his arrest, Babbs said his daughter called him in tears from Japan after family members saw his mug shot on social media.

"Like myself, they can’t believe it," said the officer, who added that he still hopes he can return to work on the Muni detail. "It’s a job I love, it’s a job they took away from me. For no apparent reason but to tell the truth."

The lieutenant's attorney didn’t respond to NBC Bay Area's request for comment.

Contact Us