SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco police officer accused of using false vehicle registration stickers has filed a lawsuit against the city, saying misdemeanor charges were filed against him in retaliation after he complained about racist remarks made by superior officers.
Officer Joel Babbs made his first appearance in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday following his arrest on Sept. 21 on misdemeanor charges of using false vehicle registration stickers and filing a false police report.
At the time of his arrest police department officials said Babbs had come under suspicion in June after a vehicle code violation complaint was made against him.
However since his arrest Babbs, who postponed entering a plea to allow his attorney time to review the evidence against him, has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that the charges were filed as retaliation against him for a harassment and discrimination complaint he filed last year.
“It seems to me they were trying to find anything and everything they could and this is all they could come up with, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to prove that it’s true,” said Babbs’ defense attorney Murlene Randle, who is also representing him in the civil suit. “It’s a lot of taxpayer money spent to come after a whistleblower.”
Babbs, who has been with the department since 1991, called the charges “sickening,” and said he had not expected retaliation when he filed the complaint.
“I thought that he would be reprimanded or moved out of our unit and I would be left alone, it would be reported,” Babbs said, saying he never thought that retaliation would be “this severe, this thick, this direct and this nasty.”
The Oct. 3 lawsuit alleges that Babbs made a complaint to the Department of Human Resources on Oct. 18, 2016 alleging discrimination and harassment against two superior officers based on a number of allegedly racist remarks made by the two, as well as against a fellow officer.
A sergeant made repeated remarks about Babbs race and his economic status and the race of other officers, as well as about race and politics, and once told him, in reference to a 15-year-old black girl without identification to “deal with your people because I’m having hard time getting information” and “she is getting all ghetto,” the complaint alleges.
The same sergeant at a later date allegedly said, in a discussion of racism in the police force, “the black people you are stopping are doing something wrong,” and “white drivers are not doing doughnuts in the middle of the… intersection.”
When Babbs complained about another officer’s behavior, the sergeant accused him of “playing the race card.” The same sergeant later cut a work assignment Babbs had due to seniority in what the complaint alleged was an act of retaliation for his complaints to Human Resources.
The lieutenant named in the complaint allegedly made statements in response to a U.S. Department of Justice report on racism in the department, saying that black people shot by police were all fighting back and that blacks commit crimes at higher rates, the complaint alleges.
He also allegedly boasted about chasing a black man with his patrol car intending to run him over, yelling “jump!” when the man ran to the roof of a building and breaking the finger of a black woman and knocking her teeth out during the same incident, the complaint alleges.
A human resources investigation upheld much of the complaint, including an allegation that the changed work assignment had been an act of retaliation, according to the lawsuit. Babbs captured some of the statements made by the superior officers on video, according to Randle.
In March the superior officers were reassigned from the SFMTA division where they worked with Babbs, and the sergeant retired a short time later.
After that, however, department investigators began poking around a business Babbs co-owns, asking questions, and ultimately removed a license plate from a vehicle he owns and had it towed from a Muni lot where it had been parked, the lawsuit alleges.
Subsequently, Babbs was placed on departmental leave and then arrested on Sept. 21, in what the lawsuit alleges was an act of retaliation. He was told by a department doctor that he was being removed from active duty because “People are afraid of you.”
The city attorney’s office today acknowledged the lawsuit and said that it was “in the process of reviewing it.”
The San Francisco police department said in a statement that it was aware of the allegations of whistleblower retaliation, “which are under investigation.”
“The investigation uncovered evidence that led to charges being filed,” the statement said. “Because this is an ongoing internal investigation, we cannot comment any further.”
Babbs, who is out of custody on bail, is due back in court on Nov. 15.
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