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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Turns Out SFPD's Go-To Guy on Gangs is a Bit of Bigot, Too

Posted By on Tue, May 3, 2016 at 1:54 PM

click image Sgt. Leonard Broberg of the SFPD's Gang Task Force Unit. - LENNY BROBERG/FACEBOOK
  • Lenny Broberg/Facebook
  • Sgt. Leonard Broberg of the SFPD's Gang Task Force Unit.

Sgt. Leonard "Len" Broberg is the San Francisco Police Department's go-to man on gangs. It is testimony from Broberg — an out gay man who, in his spare time, is active in the leather community — that is often the difference between a young (black) man from the projects going to jail for a little bit or to prison for a very long time on a gang enhancement.

(For more on how spurious "gang membership" is by law enforcement standards — "415" tattoos, for example, can be declared gang-related — please read this fine piece by current BuzzFeed scribe Albert Samaha and our own rundown of how weak the gang connection was for Mario Woods, the man slain by police in the Bayview on Dec. 2.)

Last year, police broke up a music video shoot for rapper Yung Lott in the Bayview. Cops said some of the people in the video were associated with the "Big Block" gang and arrested two. Following the bust, Broberg was called in — and his "post-game analysis" of the bust in the station house was captured on audio.

In it, you can hear Broberg call Rebecca Young, an attorney in the Public Defender's Office, a "bitch." You can also hear Broberg and other cops refer to the alleged gang members they'd arrested as "fat," "retarded," and you can hear him mocking them for hanging out in a park on a Sunday.

You can also hear how alleged gang members get "load[ed] up" with charges — even if they appear to merely be standing near gang members when cops arrive.

This recording, released publicly on Tuesday by the Public Defender, has been entered as evidence in several criminal cases. The Public Defender says it has complained about it to the Police Department but has not received a response. 

Broberg did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Reached via Twitter and email, a spokesman from SFPD's Media Relations Unit said the department would comment soon.

He appears to lump in people with "known gang members" arbitrarily. This is no small matter: as the two stories above show, a gang enhancement means serious prison time. 

Beyond that, here are some highlights.

On Rebecca Young, a deputy public defender.
Broberg: "This is what happens when I spend two days with Rebecca Young, bitch."

On people shooting a music video in the Bayview, a neighborhood not known for economic opportunity.
Broberg: "It's Sunday. They should all be in church. Heh-heh. Or getting ready for their job interviews or going to work on Monday."

On a suspect who had no arrests in San Francisco.
Broberg: "Well we're going to see if we can't help him. Yeah, let's load him up with all the charges because then I can make sure that he doesn't get out until I get a hold of his P.O. [parole officer]."

On someone else in custody.
Broberg: "Calvin is whining back there! What a little bitch."

Here's the video that started the bust that led to Broberg's stationhouse recording.

The recording is an illuminating peek at how San Francisco police deal with alleged gang members. The amount of knowledge Broberg has on the community is extensive. He knows where they live, with whom they're sleeping — and he can use that information, which could be violations of gang injunctions, to put them away for a long time.

Recall that the San Francisco Police Department is having a serious, ongoing issue with allegations of bias and racism in the department. Two separate incidents have revealed two separate groups of officers swapping racist, sexist, and otherwise biased text messages.

Those and this latest outburst from Broberg were mentioned in a letter to the Board of Supervisors from public defenders — including Young, mentioned in the recording — calling for independent oversight to root out racism in local police as well as an outside investigation from the Justice Department into the SFPD.

UPDATE, 2:12 p.m.: According to SFPD spokesman Officer Albie Esparza, police have "begun an investigation." That's all we have for now. 

UPDATE, 2:52 p.m. We just heard from Broberg himself, who offered an apology for his language — but noted none of it was racist or homophobic — and who said the audio recording is "retaliation" from the Public Defender's Office for Broberg placing an attorney working for the Public Defender under arrest in October.

Broberg says Omar Boyan, who works for the L.A. Public Defender but was volunteering in San Francisco, was arrested for "suborning perjury" after a client of his lied on the stand. (Broberg did the honor himself.)

Boyan was never charged, but the Public Defender then circulated the audio recording above in order to get Broberg, who has a long history with public defenders due to him being the main man on the gangs of  Bayview-Hunters Point, to be ruled out of testifying in future cases under what's called a Brady violation (essentially a ruling that a law enforcement witness is biased).

When that gambit failed, Broberg says, the audio recording then went to the media (where you see it now).

"We've all had afternoons where we refer to people by  names, but here's the thing: When you listen to the recording, did you hear anything racial?" he asked us.

"Was I tired? Yes. Had it been a rough couple of weeks? Yes. Could I have used better words? Yes," he added. "But in all fairness, if you listen to that whole recording, I refer to some other police officers as jackasses. I'm not sure what they [the Public Defender] are trying to show other than I have a mouth like a truck driver and a sailor."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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