Off-Duty Assault Leads to Suit Against SFFD

A San Francisco firefighter who claims he was assaulted by a colleague while both were off-duty, has filed suit against the other firefighter, the city, the fire chief, two other chief officers, and two company officers. Gabriel Shin filed suit earlier this year in US District Court for the Northern District of California alleging battery, assault, race discrimination, disability discrimination, retaliation and several related counts.

Here is earlier coverage of the incident that prompted Shin’s suit. Quoting from the complaint:

  • Plaintiff Gabriel Shin is a Korean American who proudly served the community of San Francisco as a firefighter for over 27 years. Before joining the San Francisco Fire Department, Firefighter Shin honorably served his country for several years overseas as a member of the United States Army Infantry.
  • Defendant Muhammad had a history of threatening, bullying, and aggressive behavior in the firehouse spanning over a decade prior to his attack of Firefighter Shin. High-ranking SFFD officials knew of this history yet failed to take any corrective action to address Defendant Muhammad’s dangerous volatility that he exhibited toward fellow firefighters.
  • When SFFD officials learned that Defendant Muhammad was making direct threats of violence against Firefighter Shin, the SFFD refused to act. SFFD officials permitted Defendant Muhammad to remain at the firehouse without so much as a word to discourage his planned attack.
  • While at work, Defendant Muhammad used an SFFD database to locate Firefighter Shin’s home address and schedule, information crucial in planning his attack. Defendant Muhammad also used this time afforded by the SFFD to select his deadly weapon: a large brass wrench used to pry open fire hydrants that he took from a fire truck. Despite knowing that he had shared plans to physically attack Firefighter Shin, the SFFD gave Defendant Muhammad the means and opportunity necessary to perpetrate his violent crime motivated by a workplace grievance of his own making.
  • On February 1, 2022, Defendant Muhammad traveled from his fire station to Firefighter Shin’s home, where he waited for Firefighter Shin to return from work. When Firefighter Shin arrived home and began to help his neighbors by sweeping the sidewalk, Defendant Muhammad surprised Firefighter Shin from behind.
  • Although Defendant Muhammad’s intent to harm was clear, Firefighter Shin put his broom down and said that he would not fight. At that moment, Defendant Muhammad pulled out the large hydrant wrench from behind his back and began swinging full force at Firefighter Shin’s head.
  • As Firefighter Shin blocked the wrench from striking his head, his arm was broken by the crushing force of Defendant Muhammad’s deadly blows. With Firefighter Shin defenseless and bloodied after suffering multiple strikes to his body, Defendant Muhammad raised the large wrench to strike Firefighter Shin’s skull. In that moment, the community Firefighter Shin had dedicated his life to protecting came to his rescue.
  • Observing that Defendant Muhammad was about to carry out a potentially lethal blow to a defenseless person’s head, a heroic bystander yelled at Defendant Muhammad to show him that she was carrying a gun. Only then did Defendant Muhammad put down his weapon and flee.
  • The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has charged Defendant Muhammad with felony assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury. A judge has issued a criminal restraining order against Defendant Muhammad requiring that he have no contact and remain 100 yards away from Firefighter Shin.

The complaint alleges the department did not do enough prior to the assault to prevent it, and that ranking officers pressured Shin to drop the criminal charges against Muhammad. Shim claims when he refused to drop the charges, the department retaliated against him by placing him under investigation.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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