We’ve heard rumors for two years about an alleged wrench-beating laid on an Asian firefighter in SF by one of his colleagues, but the victim is now speaking out, and the tale involves an apparent department cover-up, a 75 MPH car chase, and the wrong guy getting fired.

San Francisco Fire Department Chief Jeanine Nicholson has an excellent reputation, and is by all accounts highly respected and competent. But there’s… one thing. We started hearing rumors in May 2022 that an SF firefighter tracked down a colleague to his Oakland home and beat him senseless with a fire hydrant wrench, with KGO reporting at the time that the SF Fire Department tried to keep the incident “under wraps.” That was not successful, once the alleged assailant ​​Robert Muhammad faced felony assault charges.

NBC Bay Area reported in March 2023 that alleged victim Gabriel Shin was given a “direct order to end his cooperation” with the Oakland Police Department and to drop all of the charges. Shin refused, and was let go by the department, while Muhammad is still very much employed by the department and being paid with your tax dollars.  

KGO’s Dan Noyes, as he tends to do, stuck with the story for more than two years. And he’s finally gotten Shin to speak publicly for the first time about the incident and the alleged cover-up, and the story has more stunning subplots than we’d previously realized.

The whole thing starts with some personal family crisis that Muhammad was apparently enduring, which KGO does not disclose. This led to some behavior by Muhammed (again, not disclosed) which caused some concerned conversation among his colleagues, which Muhammed confronted Shin about.

Shin tells Dan Noyes that in the confrontation, he told Muhammed “I'm not going to tell you who told me. And he said the next time he sees me, he's going to hurt me."

“Well, I mean, he used a pejorative,” Shin adds. “ I'm going to [beep] you up. That's exactly what he said."

Muhammed then allegedly was allowed access to a work computer where he pulled up Shin’s work schedule and home address. He headed to Shin’s home in Oakland and allegedly attacked him with a 15-inch hydrant wrench, leaving Shin bloodied, with a broken left arm, and a concussion. And we learn in the KGO report that Muhammed did not stop beating Shin until one of Shin’s neighbors came out and pulled a gun on Muhammed.

And then allegedly, the fire department cover-up began, and Shin says he was ordered by his superiors to stop talking to the police.

"The first [colleague] called me and said, 'Is there any way we can work this out?'" Shin told KGO. "The second person called me and said, 'You can't charge him. You know, you've got to drop the charges. That man's got a family.' And of course, I was angry. I said, 'You know, he just tried to kill me.'"

Shin was let go by the department, Muhammed continues to work for them. Shin’s civil suit against the department says the department "treated Shin with startling prejudice and Muhammad with baffling favor from the outset because they saw one difference: Shin is Asian and Muhammad is Black."

KGO finds a fascinating footnote to this story. When a process server gave Muhammad a summons on his criminal charges, the server says Muhammad got in his car and chased the process server.

"We're going like 75 miles an hour weaving in and out of other cars,” that process server Brandon Kleinman told KGO. “We're not the only ones on the road. And he's coming up and he's swerving, trying to hit me."

That incident is also now part of the case file in the civil suit. Muhammad’s attorney is declining to comment publicly on the criminal charges. SF City Attorney David Chiu’s office said of the civil case against the city and the fire department, "we will continue to respond to the complaint in court."

Related: Allegations of SF Fire Department Assault and Cover-Up Roil Department [SFist]

Image: Oral History Center at UC Berkeley via Facebook