SF Police Commission backs interim police watchdog chief despite sexual harassment allegations

The interim head of San Francisco’s police watchdog agency who is accused of sexually harassing a female city employee in 2014 is still being backed by the Police Commission that appointed him, despite union complaints.

On May 16, a female city employee wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors, alleging that Department of Police Accountability’s acting director Manuel Fortes rubbed his erect genitals against her back in 2014. She did not file a complaint at the time of the alleged incident.

After that letter surfaced, SEIU 1021 — which represent a number of the DPA’s staffers — notified the commission of their concerns about Fortes’ leadership. That letter accused Fortes of not only making female employees uncomfortable, but also that he had failed at his basic tasks in the past.

“During his tenure as a DPA attorney, Mr. Fortes earned a reputation for incompetence,” reads the May 23 letter, which went on to say that reports “languished” on his desk and he had changed the material facts of some of the cases.

Those acts, continued the letter, undermined the “legitimacy of the case set forth in the reports, thus undermining the legitimacy of the investigation as well as any discipline recommended by the agency.”

Police Commission President Julius Turman responded to the union’s concerns by stating that any harassment of employees is beyond the pale, but also by standing behind Fortes.

“The Police Commission will not tolerate a workplace where there is any discrimination or harassment,” said Turman to the San Francisco Examiner in a phone conversation. He added that he’d drafted a letter stating that any harassment should be reported and that he’d informed the Department of Human Resources to look into to the matter.

But he also stated that Fortes will stay in his position until a permanent director is found.

“I have observed his work ethic, qualifications and abilities that he has presented before the commission over the years, and his dedication to the DPA and its mission,” reads the May 25 letter. “In the weeks to come, the commission, in conjunction with the mayor and as outlined by the city charter, will begin a process to select a permanent DPA director. Until such time as the mayor appoints a permanent director, or the commission receives objective information indicating that Mr. Fortes is an inappropriate choice for the interim
DPA director role, he will remain in place.”

Fortes, an attorney for the DPA since 2009, on May 12 was named interim director — effective July 1 — following the resignation of longtime Director Joyce Hicks, who was pushed out in part due to a staff revolt against her purported domineering management style.

Fortes did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

His appointment was opposed by a majority of the DPA staff who noted as much to the Police Commission in two separate letters.

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