A campaign by San Francisco women to force the city’s criminal justice system to finally take an alleged serial stalker seriously has paid off.

On Friday, US Park Police arrested Bill Gene Hobbs, the 34-year-old man who allegedly terrorized women and girls around San Francisco for years, and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told me she was preparing to file a list of charges and ask a judge to keep Hobbs behind bars ahead of trial.

Federal agents apprehended Hobbs near the water park, transferred him to San Francisco police custody, and he is in county jail. A Superior Court judge issued a warrant for his arrest late Thursday after San Francisco police linked Hobbs to 14 separate criminal incidents over the past few weeks.

San Francisco police say the arrest came after a member of the public said they watched Hobbs. And he’s not hard to spot, standing 6ft 4in, sporting a fashionable haircut and covered in tattoos, including the letters EVIL inked on his fingertips.

Police and prosecutors have compiled cases from a host of women who have come forward to file police reports over the past month, though officials did not say which incidents triggered the arrest warrant.

One of the 14 incidents appears to be an April 25 marina encounter when Hobbs allegedly grabbed a 26-year-old woman named Olivia on her way to the gym. She described in a previous column how he allegedly grabbed her from behind, pulled her towards him, kept telling her she was beautiful – then chased after her as she ran.

“He had such a hold on me, and he was so much bigger than me,” she told me last month, refusing to use her last name out of fear for her safety.

On Friday, she said she filed a complaint with the police after our first conversation. A police investigator questioned her, said officers would drive around the area looking for security camera footage and asked if she would testify in court if the case went to trial. She said it would be scary to see Hobbs in court again, but she felt compelled to say yes.

“For me, it’s important. I want to go all the way and I want to end it,” she told me. “I think it will be difficult, but I know I can do difficult things.”

Olivia was one of more than a dozen women who shared stories in this column in recent weeks about being grabbed, chased and ogled by a man fitting Hobbs’ description as they walked through the city streets, jog on JFK Drive or lounge in Dolores Park.

Many others shared similar stories on Facebook or NextDoor. (The Chronicle could not verify that Hobbs was involved in each of the social media complaints.)

As Hobbs’ notoriety grew, women across the city expressed frustration at the slow police response despite so many scary stories pouring in, and the justice system’s long inability to intervene. in Hobbs’ behavior. Judges dismissed a series of cases against Hobbs dating back to 2017.

In the wake of an arrest, women will want to know: Will Hobbs face any real consequences this time? Will public safety finally be a priority?

Hobbs may be an extreme case, but he is one of many repeat offenders who are wreaking havoc and contributing to the fact that many San Franciscans, especially women, feel uncomfortable walking in their neighborhood. It reflects the joint failure of the city’s criminal justice system and public health system to provide real mental health care to people who desperately need it while keeping the public safe.

The Hobbs saga also demonstrates the importance of victims and witnesses of crime coming forward to make police reports rather than dismissing frightening encounters as disturbing single events, as many women initially did. terrorized by Hobbs.

“It seems like we’re turning the tide on people who had faith in our criminal justice system again and coming forward as victims to tell their stories,” Jenkins told me in a phone interview. “I hope this helps restore confidence among the people of San Francisco that we will do our job to protect them.”

She did not specify what particular incidents led to the charges, but said they involved Hobbs allegedly following women, touching them against their will and in at least one encounter, taking a woman and would have carried.

Jenkins intends to charge Hobbs with one count of false criminal imprisonment, six counts of misdemeanor battery, two counts of misdemeanor assault, four counts of misdemeanor common nuisance and three counts of assault and battery for a sexual offence. She will prosecute them as one big case, with the count carrying a sentence of up to three years in prison and the misdemeanors carrying a sentence of up to six months each. Jenkins will ask a judge to hold Hobbs without bail, saying he poses a risk to public safety.

A San Francisco Police Department investigation conducted interviews with victims and witnesses and probed known crime scenes to collect videos and photos.

In an interview last month, Hobbs told me he approaches women he finds attractive but doesn’t get physical, likening his behavior to a hero in a romantic movie like “Love Actually.” Since then, he has not returned messages from the Chronicle seeking comment.

Now, attention will turn to the city’s Superior Court whose sometimes lax judges dismissed seven cases against Hobbs dating back to 2017, including for trespassing, false imprisonment, assault, giving police false information — and, in a notorious case involving allegedly tracking and seizing a 15-year-old in West Portal in December 2020, assault and battery and child molestation.

Erin Zerega, the 15-year-old’s mother, said of the arrest warrant: “Finally! What took so long? The delay sent a message that women’s safety is not a priority. So many victims, scarred for life, are now wearing pepper spray. What happened to San Francisco?

After a stint in Ventura County jail for auto theft last year, Hobbs returned to San Francisco in early 2022 and reportedly began approaching women he didn’t know, grabbing them, chasing them and sometimes even forcibly kissing them.

Police arrested him in June for assault and battery after he allegedly grabbed and chased a jogger in Golden Gate Park, but Jenkins did not charge the case. They arrested him again in August for allegedly breaking into a stranger’s house in the marina, telling residents he lived there and they were his new family, but Jenkins dismissed the case.

The Golden Gate Park jogger – a 24-year-old woman who asked to go by her middle name, Ann, out of fear for her safety – said Friday the district attorney’s office told her Jenkins intended to charge Hobbs with misdemeanor battery in his case after all. Ann said she had been scared to leave her flat for the past few weeks, always checking NextDoor to see if people had posted about scouting Hobbs.

“I don’t think I’ll feel 100% safe until he’s in jail,” she told me before the arrest was announced. “I’m emotionally drained by it all at this point and have so little faith in the system, I’m still waiting for something to go wrong.”

The University of San Francisco recently sent out a campus bulletin warning people of Hobbs, who they said had three on-campus encounters with campus security — on February 17, July 1 and September 14. The bulletin asked people to call campus security if they spotted him. Again.

Hobbs apparently lived near the USF campus at one time. On September 23, several police officers and a mental health worker received permission from tenants to enter a large apartment near campus where Hobbs lived for a mental health check. Someone nearby who witnessed the incident said police called Hobbs dangerous and needed help. But he had previously fled the apartment, leaving furniture, clothes and shoes on the pavement outside and has not been seen since, the person said.

He was, however, spotted several times around the city – in Cow Hollow, the marina, Chinatown and outside Greens Sports Bar in Russian Hill on Sunday, where an employee said he was verbally harassing people in a park for 30 minutes before getting in front. from bar security, spitting on them screaming. The police responded, spoke to Hobbs and let him go, appalling staff and patrons alike.

“He was running this whole circus – that’s exactly what he does,” said the employee, who had seen Hobbs in the area a number of times before. “He wants the attention.”

Hobbs also allegedly harassed people outside a nearby bar on September 4 as well. A 24-year-old woman named Jessica, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her safety, said she was speaking with friends when a man matching Hobbs’ description grabbed her at the face and attempted to forcefully kiss her, although she backed off. time to avoid contact.

“It was really, really weird,” she told me. “I backed off, obviously, and said, ‘What are you doing? “”

His roommate, Hannah, also 24, yelled at Hobbs to leave, but he didn’t.

“He just stood there looking at me, laughing and smiling,” Hannah said. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah? As if he was laughing at me.

The women said he then asked, “Are you trying to bless me right now?” Jessica said she felt lucky to be in a band when Hobbs approached her.

“And he still tried to kiss me!” she said incredulously. “I can’t imagine if I was alone.”

Jessica said she didn’t file a police report, thinking it was a unique and odd encounter. This sentiment was expressed by many of Hobbs’ victims who later decided to come forward after realizing the chilling pattern.

When we spoke earlier this week, the police and the DA still hadn’t done anything.

“I feel really uncomfortable and in danger knowing he’s still out there,” Hannah told me. “I’m disappointed. I really hope things will change.”

Finally, they did – and the women of San Francisco will surely keep watching to see what happens next.

Heather Knight is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hknightsf