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Former SF police commissioner Julius Turman dies

by Alex Madison

Julius Turman. Photo: Courtesy SF Police Commission
Julius Turman. Photo: Courtesy SF Police Commission  

Julius Turman leaves behind a legacy of generosity and love, said his close friend Brett Andrews, CEO of the Positive Resource Center. Flags at City Hall flew at half-staff Monday in honor of Turman, a gay man who had just stepped down from the San Francisco Police Commission and was found dead in his home Sunday, May 13. He was 52.

Mr. Turman had served as president of the police oversight panel when he announced his resignation in December. His final day was May 4.

For many in the community, his death came as a shock, but Andrews said Mr. Turman was suffering from an "increasing illness over the last few months," although Andrews would not disclose the type of illness out of respect for Mr. Turman's family.

He died peacefully in his home, Andrews said, and was found by friends early Sunday morning. His body did not go through the San Francisco Medical Examiner's office, a clerk confirmed. The San Francisco Police Department said it did not have any further information regarding his death.

Mr. Turman did not have a partner at the time of his death and is survived by his father, who lives in Mr. Turman's home state of Michigan.

The Bay Area Reporter spoke with some of Mr. Turman's close friends and colleagues, who talked about the significant impact he made on the LGBT community and beyond. Aside from his great sense of humor, incredible generosity, and brilliant legal mind, what friends emphasized was his endless devotion to equality and justice.

"He had such a unique ability to serve," said Andrews in a phone interview with the B.A.R. Andrews knew Mr. Turman for over 15 years. "There was always a time when he was donating his time, offering his pro bono services to friends and families and good causes. That's what most people knew about Julius, but they had no idea the extent to which he had contributed to the community both on a personal level and through his legal expertise."

Mr. Turman was a labor and employment attorney and a former assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Turman stepped down from the Police Commission about a year before the end of his second term. Friends said he wanted to make way for a leader with a new and fresh perspective. He joined the commission in 2012 and became its president in 2016.

As president, Mr. Turman helped enforce reforms to the San Francisco Police Department recommended by the U.S. Department of Justice, strengthen relations between SFPD and the public, and write rules for body-worn cameras along with making revisions to the city's use-of-force policies.

Mr. Turman was also involved in developing a new policy for police officers to use Tasers, which was approved by the commission in March.

Police Chief William Scott said in a statement, " Commissioner Turman was a tremendously intelligent and compassionate man who cared deeply about this department. He worked to help us increase trust and respect and was relentlessly focused on bringing forth the best practices, policies and procedures to the San Francisco Police Department."

Gay District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy said in a statement Mr. Turman led the Police Commission with "great honor and distinction," and "led the modernization and reformation of [the] police department."

"Julius was an inspirational leader in the LGBTQ community," Sheehy stated. "[He] dedicated his life to the pursuit of justice."

Mr. Turman was the first African-American co-chair of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club from 2006 to 2007. Martha Knutzen, a lesbian, knew Mr. Turman from her time with the Democratic club. Knutzen didn't know Mr. Turman was sick and said his passing was shocking.

She spoke about his strong leadership abilities, dedication to civil rights, and his deep understanding of the intersectionality of race and sexual orientation, which were apparent in his work.

He led the club through the contentious 2008 state Senate race in which Mark Leno, a gay man who is now running for San Francisco mayor, defeated lesbian incumbent state Senator Carole Migden.

"Julius handled it with such grace," Knutzen told the B.A.R in a phone interview. "Everyone has a strong opinion about those things and I remember it didn't get very ugly."

Both Knutzen and Andrews talked about Mr. Turman's welcoming spirit, which was illustrated by the parties at his home in Potrero Hill.

"The excuse to party was just wonderful," Andrews said. "He understood the value of community and the value of coming together, sharing food, sharing experiences, and celebrating triumphs."

Andrews shed tears in his interview with the B.A.R. and Knutzen talked about everyone's deep sadness from Mr. Turman's passing.

"What's so sad is how that light is gone," Knutzen said. "When someone is so funny and humorous, anyone you talk to is very sad."

Gabriel Haaland, a trans man and union activist, posted on Facebook about Mr. Turman's involvement in the And Castro for All group that picketed Badlands over its alleged discriminatory racist practices in 2004-2005.

"Julius was the attorney for And Castro for All, and successfully brought an action for mediation through the Human Rights Commission in 2006," Haaland wrote.

(A 2004 report by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission found that the bar was discriminating against African-Americans, but the findings were never official because the HRC executive director at the time did not sign off on the staff report. Badlands owner Les Natali and the complainants eventually reached a confidential settlement.)

Mr. Turman served as a co-chair for Bay Area Lawyers For Individual Freedom, the LGBT bar association, from 2004-2006.

"Julius' passing is a true loss to the legal community and BALIF. He was a terrific co-chair and great leader," Kelly McCown, who was Mr. Turman's co-chair at the time, said in a statement. "He was opinionated but always diplomatic, charming as well as humorous, and a tenacious fighter for the LGBTQI community. He will be sorely missed."

Mr. Turman served as a community grand marshal of the San Francisco Pride parade in 2008. He also served on the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee's board and briefly as its legal counsel.

"Julius was an exemplary community leader who contributed both his time and his knowledge to the organizations he cared about," George F. Ridgely, SF Pride executive director, said in a statement. "We join San Francisco in honoring his memory, and our hearts go out to Julius' friends and loved ones."

Mayor Mark Farrell released a news release stating, "Julius was a civic leader, proud defender of human rights and a fierce advocate for equality and justice. Julius always spoke forcefully, yet truly, and he gained the well-earned respect of his colleagues and peers for his clear passion and dedication to serving the people of this city. I am profoundly saddened by his passing."

Thomas Mazzucco, who succeeded Mr. Turman as Police Commission president, said in a statement, "Julius was dedicated to breaking down barriers and building bridges between people. Julius cared about the relationship between the SFPD and the people of our great city. He was a true San Franciscan and has earned the right to be called one of our finest."

Contact the reporter at a.madison@ebar.com.

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