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Body found at San Francisco homeless shelter was nephew of controversial nonprofit CEO

A memorial for "Big Head" cropped up next to his SUV, just outside Port of San Francisco-owned parcel known as "Site F," as seen on Sunday.| Astrid Kane/The Standard

A 53-year-old man was found dead last week in an SUV just outside San Francisco’s temporary trailer park for unhoused people near Pier 94 known as “Site F.”

To some who live or work at the shelter, he was known only as “Big Head.” On Sunday, two days after the body was found, a memorial had sprung up on a chain-link fence opposite the Ford Explorer, with loving notes recalling him as “a beautiful soul” and “a light.”  

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed that the man who died was Darrin Douglas, age 53. Police said they have no reason to believe foul play was involved, but others say they aren’t so sure.

One of the rear windows of Douglas' SUV was missing, and what appeared to be a smear of dried blood was visible on the rear left seat, where a mechanic claims to have found his body. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

A mechanic who would only give his name as Steve noted he had found Big Head in the backseat of the SUV, with “a pool of blood” next to the body. The dead man, Steve added, had recently been kicked out of his trailer at Site F, which he called a dumping ground for unhoused Black men.

“I’m 99% sure this isn’t the first time or the last time” that someone had died at Site F, Steve said. “I thought it was really odd. This dude was a strong, healthy dude.”

Douglas was also not without connections, as it turns out. 

He was the nephew of Gwendolyn Westbrook, CEO of the United Council of Human Services nonprofit, Westbrook confirmed in a phone call with The Standard. Douglas was named in a labor lawsuit filed in February against Westbrook, which alleged that Westbrook lived a lavish lifestyle incommensurate with her $155,000 salary, purchasing vehicles for friends and family as well as paying for weddings and in-vitro fertilizations.

Gwendolyn Westbrook, the director of the United Council of Human Services, is pictured in San Francisco on March 15, 2011. | Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Some of the 114 trailers at Pier 94's Site F are pictured on Sunday. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

The suit also alleges that Westbrook had attempted to hire Douglas to work at her office following his release from prison in Texas, but he got into “fistfights and other physical confrontations with employees, occasionally requiring police intervention.”

Westbrook then found him a job at Site F as an unspecified maintenance worker, setting him up in one of the on-site trailers, the suit says.

“Within weeks, Douglas began engaging in behaviors Plaintiff assessed posed a risk to other residents: angry outbursts, open consumption of illegal drugs and, on at least five occasions, sneaking female prostitutes or escorts into his RV,” the lawsuit states. 

Attempts to address his behavior spurred Douglas to physically threaten his bosses at Site F, the suit says. Although his actions jeopardized the safety of other residents and created a liability for the site itself, the lawsuit states that Westbrook intervened on her nephew’s behalf, essentially telling staff to leave him alone.

Reached by phone, Westbrook, in a brief, combative exchange, confirmed that Douglas was her nephew, then said “no comment” to all further questions before hanging up.

It was unclear whether Douglas was still employed at the time of his death. 

A Google Street View shows the United Council of Human Services at 2111 Jennings St. in San Francisco.

Site F, a parcel owned by the Port of San Francisco, is home to 114 trailers. Intended as a temporary shelter, the facility has continued to operate even after Mayor London Breed’s emergency declaration that authorized the trailers expired Feb. 28. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing has said it intends to close down Site F, a dusty and somewhat forlorn location in San Francisco’s Bayview District hard by a disused railroad track, although a firm timetable has not been established. 

What will become of the trailers, the residents or even the SUV where Douglas was found dead, is unclear. Days after his death, the vehicle remained abandoned near the site. 

One of the vehicle’s rear windows was missing, and what appeared to be a smear of dried blood was visible on the rear left seat, where Steve claimed to have found the body. 

Nearby, a man and a dog in a green convertible were doing doughnuts, raising a huge dust cloud.

A message is scrawled on a balloon at the site of a memorial for Big Head next to an SUV just outside Port of San Francisco-owned parcel known as Site F on Sunday. | Astrid Kane/The Standard

Astrid Kane can be reached at astrid@sfstandard.com