A San Francisco police officer was harassed because of his sexual orientation in a yearlong bullying campaign by superiors that only got worse when he reported the behavior, according to a lawsuit filed this week against the city.
Brendan Mannix, 28, accused members of the Police Department of sexual harassment, sexual discrimination based on his sexual orientation, and retaliating against a whistle-blower. Mannix’s attorneys filed the suit Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court.
Mannix said two sergeants at Central Station frequently made comments about his sexual orientation, including calling him a “queen,” “too dramatic” and insulting his masculinity, attorney Lawrence Organ wrote. When he tried to report the behavior, Mannix allegedly faced retaliation, and he said the department didn’t do anything to stop the harassment.
The Police Department said it could not comment on the lawsuit but takes “allegations of discrimination and officer misconduct seriously and will thoroughly investigate all complaints.”
“The San Francisco Police Department is committed to diversity, tolerance and respect for the public and all of our members,” said David Stevenson, a police spokesman. “Department members are sworn to hold each other accountable and required to act swiftly to report any misconduct.”
The San Francisco city attorney’s office said it has not been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on it.
“The city of San Francisco, including the Police Department, has been a leader on LGBT rights for decades and remains committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment for all,” said John Coté, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office.
Mannix — who is still employed as a San Francisco police officer — graduated from the police academy in May 2015 and was assigned to the Richmond Station, where he completed his field training over a probationary period.
In the fall of 2016, he transferred to the Central Station, where officers are assigned to patrol the Financial District, the Embarcadero, Chinatown and North Beach.
That’s when the trouble started, Organ said.
“Mr. Mannix quickly noticed the ‘Old Boys’ Club’ atmosphere of the station: Anyone who did not fit a precise mold — broadly speaking, straight, cisgender, white and male — was targeted for mistreatment; those who complained about it were treated even worse,” Organ wrote.
The bulk of Mannix’s accusations focus on two sergeants. One suggested Mannix was in a sexual relationship with the other gay officer at the station, and when Mannix did or said something the sergeant believed was stereotypically gay, he would say “ugh, you gays!” or “God, you gays!” Organ said.
The sergeant, Organ said, would also mock Mannix’s hair style and physical appearance, making comments like, “Is that hair big enough?!” and “How much do you weigh? One hundred pounds soaking wet?”
In one instance, when they discovered a dead body in the water at night, the sergeant told him, “don’t be such a queen,” when Mannix said he was cold, Organ said.
Mannix later confronted the two sergeants in a station conference room, asking them to stop the harassment, Organ said. The second sergeant, he said, got in Mannix’s face and told him, “if you think I am a bully, file a f—ing complaint.” In another instance, a sergeant “talked positively about how ‘back in the day,’ the police would ‘round up’ all of the ‘trannies’ ” who were prostitutes, which Mannix found offensive and concerning, his attorney said.
Mannix claims the sergeants then began retaliating against him. In April 2017, he chased a robbery suspect down Market Street and radioed for backup. No one from his station immediately showed up to help and Mannix apprehended the suspect himself, Organ said. Officers from a neighboring station eventually arrived on the scene to assist, he said.
The alleged harassment began to take a toll, Organ said, prompting Mannix to take a three-month leave beginning May 1, 2017, to “maintain his mental health.”
When he returned in August, Mannix filed a formal complaint, but the sergeant who took the report was “dismissive” and omitted many of the incidents he reported, Organ said. The complaint was later closed.
In September, Mannix and his partner responded to a domestic violence call and the suspect shot at them, forcing them to retreat. Backup later arrived and shot the man. Mannix complained that he had to accompany the suspect to the hospital, where he waited through the night, spending more than 12 hours on shift.
Mannix said he was later given unfavorable assignments at the station.
He was later summoned into a meeting with a lieutenant to discuss the harassment complaints with his sergeant. The sergeant “told him that he had inappropriately addressed her and violated policy by discussing an active Internal Affairs investigation,” Organ said.
Evan Sernoffsky is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @EvanSernoffsky
Evan Sernoffsky is a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle specializing in criminal justice, crime and breaking news. He’s covered some of the biggest Bay Area news stories in recent memory, including wildfires, mass shootings and criminal justice reform efforts in San Francisco. He has given a voice to victims in some of the region’s biggest tragedies, carefully putting himself in challenging situations to make sure their stories are told. He works out of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice where he keeps watch on the city’s courts and hits the streets to expose the darker side of a city undergoing rapid change. He moved to the Bay Area from Oregon where he grew up and worked as a journalist for several years.