by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco – A police officer of Afghan descent alleges he is the target of retaliation after reporting racial and religious discrimination at the hands of his San Francisco Police Department colleagues, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced at an April 10 press conference.
On Nov. 9, 2017, a San Francisco police officer made a harassment complaint to the SFPD’s equal employment opportunity department, alleging he was not only harassed for being Middle Eastern and Muslim, but witnessed racism and homophobia by officers at Central Station. The San Francisco public defender is withholding his name for safety reasons. Among his allegations:
- The officer claims he was repeatedly accused by colleagues of being a terrorist. This harassment included being told he could leave his RPGs and grenades at home and being asked to inform an officer if his family members were planning an attack so the officer could “put them down gently.” He also reported being asked if his police radio earpiece was connected to a bomb. In one instance, an officer claimed to see wires coming out of the officer’s duty bag and said, “Tick tick, that’s what I hear.”
- Twice he found hateful graffiti on his locker. In an August 2017 incident, someone scrawled “tick-tick.” On Nov. 6, 2017, the officer found and photographed graffiti on his locker that included an ISIS flag and the words “go back.”
- The officer reported that a fellow officer referred to him as a “sand n—–” and his sergeant asked him if he knew any “towelheads.”
- The officer reported several instances of anti-Muslim harassment by fellow officers, such as a colleague applauding the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, warning against Muslims infiltrating law enforcement, telling the officer he can’t detonate himself in exchange for 72 virgins since he is a police officer, and taking him to a strip club in a deliberate attempt to embarrass him.
- While on patrol with a colleague in November 2017, the colleague allegedly told the officer, “I want to get guns, and the only people who have guns are Blacks and Hispanics. The department doesn’t like us to make judgments like that, but if I see a Black person behind the wheel of a vehicle, I’ll pull the car over and figure out probable cause later.” The same colleague later referred to an African American motorist as a monkey, the officer said.
- The officer claims he witnessed an officer repeatedly call his colleagues “faggot” and yell the slur at a rideshare driver.
- The officer stated he witnessed colleagues routinely mute their body worn cameras to make inappropriate comments at crime scenes, including dismissing a rape victim because she was a sex worker and threatening to call Immigration on a Latino motorist.
- The officer says he heard several officers expressing support for the white nationalist movement, complaining the group had been maligned by the media.
The officer, who joined the SFPD in June 2016, describes a shocking pattern of retaliation after reporting the harassment. Colleagues suddenly found problems with his performance, complained he was making them deal with internal investigations, and accused him of not being able to take a joke, he said.
He received calls from members of the Police Officers Association who asked probing questions about the nature of his complaints. His alleged mistakes on the job were broadcast on police radio and meetings he and his family scheduled with top brass to discuss the issue were cancelled without his knowledge.
The officer, who joined the SFPD in June 2016, describes a shocking pattern of retaliation after reporting the harassment.
The officer isn’t the first SFPD whistleblower to claim retaliation. Joel Babbs, an African American officer, claimed in November 2017 to have faced months of departmental retaliation for alleging racism in the ranks, culminating in Babbs being charged with vehicle registration fraud and making a false police report.
In January, San Francisco settled a lawsuit with retired police officer Patricia Burley for $100,000. Burley claimed she was forced to retire after she blew the whistle on a colleague’s criminal conduct.
The officer isn’t the first SFPD whistleblower to claim retaliation.
In 2015, the city paid former internal affairs attorney Kelly O’Haire $725,000 after she filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit, claiming she faced threats after handling a discipline case against then-Deputy Chief Greg Suhr.
When Lt. Yulanda Williams, head of the predominantly Black organization Officers for Justice, spoke out in 2015 against bigotry in the department after being the target of racist texts sent by SFPD officers, she was denounced by the San Francisco Police Officers Association. The POA president sent a letter to the union’s 2,000 members, saying he was “disturbed” by Williams’ accusations and denying any racism in the ranks or police practices.
Adachi said the case demonstrates that the department is still beset by deeply ingrained bias. “In order to eliminate racism in the ranks, police culture must rid itself of its ‘no snitching’ ethos. Fear of speaking out due to retaliation has been an enormous barrier to real reform in San Francisco,” Adachi said.
Tamara Barak Aparton, communications and policy assistant in the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, can be reached at Tamara.Aparton@sfgov.org.