A Black sheriff’s cadet who was allegedly called the N-word multiple times and physically threatened by Supervisor Shamann Walton told The Standard in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he’s still deeply embarrassed about the incident and fears for his safety.
Emare Butler, 43, said the confrontation on June 24 started when Walton, who is also a Black man, encountered a crowd at the security check at City Hall and refused to take off his belt, which has apparently set off a metal detector in the past. Butler said he has allowed Walton to avoid taking off the belt when no line exists, but City Hall was crowded that Friday since Pride weekend was kicking off. The security protocols—put in place as a result of Supervisor Dan White assassinating Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978—are strictly enforced when there are crowds.
Butler said he tried to give Walton a signal that he would need to remove his belt, but the supervisor refused and flew into a rage, telling him, “It’s n—s like you that look like me that's always a problem.” Walton also allegedly threatened to fight Butler and accused him of pulling “n— shit.”
“When he made the statement, I’m like, ‘Really, you’re going to say that in front of all these people?’ … I’m not a person who agrees that just because we’re the same color, it’s allowable,” Butler told The Standard. “It’s rude and disrespectful no matter what color you are. Not to mention: we’re not friends. This is a professional setting. You should be setting an example.”
He said he felt like the only reason Walton could get away with that was because of the power dynamics between a supervisor and cadet.
“I highly doubt he would have done that to anyone who was considered to be on his level,” Butler said.
Since the Chronicle first reported the incident on Friday, Supervisor Walton has issued multiple statements, including a lengthy Instagram post.
Walton accused Butler and other cadets of repeatedly targeting him during security checks in retaliation after he authored a ballot measure in 2020 to create a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board. The board’s creation followed allegations of jail deputies using excessive force and pitting inmates against each other in gladiator-style fights.
Walton on Tuesday backed off from threats of a lawsuit against the city and county of San Francisco, but said he will “continue to stand by my original statement.” He has not denied using the N-word.
Mayor London Breed, left, and Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton at City Hall. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard
Butler, who grew up in the Bayview like Walton, said he has avoided the neighborhood since the encounter because of concerns over his safety.
“I never knew him before I worked here. I've never met him before,” Butler said. “But he has the ear of that district. So, I still have family members and stuff there, so it makes it kind of weird. Just to be safe, like, I'm not going over there. I'm not going to visit. I don't go visit old friends. I don't go to that area because I just don't want any problems, because he's put all these things on Instagram and kind of riled people up.”
It’s unclear if video or audio of the confrontation exists, but The Standard has filed multiple public records requests with the Sheriff’s Department and City Hall.
Mayor London Breed, a Black woman who has clashed with Walton during his time leading the board, stopped short of calling for him to apologize but she told The Standard that Walton’s alleged actions would be inappropriate if true.
“Using the N-word towards a city employee, especially by an elected leader, should not occur,” Breed said in an interview. “It is my understanding that there was an investigation and the matter has been resolved. But at the end of the day, city employees are here to help us manage and run this city and they should be treated with respect.”
In a statement, Walton said “the mayor should stick to commenting on all the corruption that has existed during her tenure,” referencing the bribery scandal involving former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.
Sheriff Paul Miyamoto issued a statement saying he had never heard of any previous confrontations between Butler and Walton until the day of the incident. Two days after the confrontation, Undershiff Joseph Engler detailed the allegations against the supervisor in a memo to Miyamoto and Carol Isen, the director of the city’s Human Resources Department.
“The San Francisco Sheriff’s Office fully stands by our cadet who was simply doing his job that day and has shown nothing but professionalism and grace in the wake of this incident,” Miyamoto said.
The allegations against Walton represent the second instance of racial insensitivity in the city’s political scene in recent weeks. Last week, numerous members of the city’s Democratic Party, including Walton, called on newly appointed school board member Ann Hsu to resign after she said the achievement gap for Black and Latinx students in the city was due to a lack of involvement by their parents. The statement was seen as an offensive racial stereotype.
Breed, who appointed Hsu after the recall of three school board members in February, said she disagreed with board member’s comments but did not think her resignation was warranted. The mayor said the difference in her stance on Hsu and a previous call she made for former school board member Allison Collins to resign after racially offensive tweets was because of the remorse Hsu has shown since her comments came to light.
Butler told The Standard he is still considering his options and may file a complaint against Walton with the city. He said he would have moved on by now if the supervisor had simply offered an apology.
“I mean, honestly, at this point, I just want him to clear my name and finally tell the truth about what happened,” Butler said. “Because you have a lot of people thinking that I'm a bad person and that I was targeting him, which is far from the case. I don’t even know him enough to have any feelings towards him. I was just doing the job that I was paid to do.”
Josh Koehn can be reached at [email protected]