San Francisco police Sgt. Leonard Broberg was none too pleased about being called into work on a Sunday afternoon in March 2015 after police interrupted a rap video shoot in Hunters Point and detained the participants — and he showed it.
For 20 years the SFPD's Gang Task Force's in-house expert on African-American gangs in Bayview-Hunters Point, Broberg decides if young men arrested by police are members of “criminal street gangs.”
Gang membership is loosely defined in state law — there's a list of criteria, of which you need only meet two — but in court, a gang enhancement is dead serious, and can mean a lengthy stint in state prison.
That Sunday, police watched as a man with a gun, Taj Williams, walked into the playground where a Yung Lott video was being filmed. That was the pretext for police swooping in on the 20 people participating in the video (and seizing their cellphones and taking photos of their tattoos).
Called in to Bayview Station on his day off, Broberg told younger cops to “jack up” one of the men with gang charges — solely on the grounds that he was with two other gang members. (They're members of the “Big Block” gang, according to police, despite the leader of Big Block being sentenced to prison over a decade ago.)
That — and Broberg mocking the men for shooting a rap video and not “getting ready for their job interviews or going to work on Monday” — was all captured on an audio recording, released publicly last week by the Public Defender's Office, which says that this is all evidence Broberg is biased toward identifying men as gang members regardless of the totality of the evidence — and should be removed from his post at the Gang Task Force as a result.
The public defender provided the audio recording to both the district attorney and San Francisco police Chief Greg Suhr in January, and went public with it after no action appeared to have been taken. A police spokeswoman could say only that the incident is under review.
Broberg himself says this is a tit-for-tat situation — revenge for the time he plucked an attorney working for the public defender out of line at the taco truck near the Hall of Justice and placed him under arrest for allegedly allowing a client to lie on the stand. (No charges were ever filed.)
He says the recording shows nothing more than “it had been a rough couple of weeks” for him and that he has “a mouth like a truck driver and a sailor,” pointing out he also refers to other cops as “jackasses” on the tape.
Not so, says Rebecca Young, head of the homicide unit at the Public Defender's Office and a repeat Broberg foil (to whom Broberg also refers as a “bitch” on the tape).
To Young, Broberg's breezy attitude when deciding who is labeled a gang member for life shows a level of hostility and contempt that is a much stronger showing of bias than a cop who tells his buddies he's in Bayview to “kill n——” (at press time, Bayview had that happen, too).
“We believe he shows a pattern and practice of unprofessional conduct and implicit bias,” she told SF Weekly, claiming that Broberg routinely tells teenagers what another teenager said about them on social media, and often reminds them of decade-old beef between older brothers to encourage conflict that can be later labeled as gang activity. “And mind you, he's doing this with children.”
“This is over-policing of black men in these public housing projects that's completely oppressive,” she says, “and it keeps them down.”