A former San Francisco Republican official who claimed to be a victim of the #MeToo movement has been accused of dismembering his fiancee.
On 6 September, Alameda, California, officials arrested the 42-year-old Navy veteran Joseph C Roberts after DNA evidence from the autopsy of Rachel Elizabeth Imani Buckner, 27, allegedly pointed in his direction.
Earlier this summer, Buckner’s remains were found inside a bag along the shoreline near the Bay Farm Island bridge, authorities announced in a press release. Buckner’s body, which was missing its head, hands and feet, was found wrapped in black trash bags and duct tape, according to the Mercury News, which reviewed court documents.
On 30 August, following further DNA examinations, Roberts’s DNA was reportedly found on the duct tape and trash bags. A week later, police appeared at an apartment in Pleasanton where Roberts and Buckner lived.
Roberts, a Georgia native, attended Savannah State University in 2009. Years later, he claimed in several interviews that he had been wrongly accused of sexual harassment and suspended from the university.
Roberts’s claims were touted by Donald Trump’s former education secretary Betsy DeVos, who in 2020 rolled back Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault, which gave further protection to those accused.
In a 2020 op-ed in USA Today, Roberts said that his story “followed what I have since learned in an all-too-familiar pattern for the falsely accused: isolation from friends and family, loss of reputation, depression, substance abuse, suicide attempt”.
He echoed similar sentiments in an interview released in 2020 with The Exceptional Conservative Show, in which he said: “They said things like they were afraid for their lives … It was just total lies.”
That year, Roberts launched a campaign for a Republican party committee seat in his district, which he won. He vowed to “support the local police department” and called himself a “law-and-order candidate”. He also said he “successfully advocated for equal treatment and due process for those affected by inequitable Title IX campus disciplinary processes”.
Following reports of Roberts’s alleged involvement in Buckner’s death, many people online were quick to point out what they felt was the glaring hypocrisy of the situation.
“Will there come a day when we and our mother’s [sic], daughters, and sisters no longer have to live with the understanding that we are prey?” one person wrote.
Someone else wrote: “This guy was poster boy for Betsy DeVos’s pushback against the ‘Me Too’ movement influencing colleges and universities to establish sexual assault programs.”
Addressing DeVos, another person said: “You defended Joseph Roberts as a victim, falsely accused of sexual assault … Now he’s been arrested for killing another a woman.”
A GoFundMe page set up by Buckner’s mother said that she went to Golden Gate University for her law degree and there met Roberts, who was also a law student, according to the Mercury News.
The fundraising page went on to describe her as an “accomplished woman on her way to being an exceptional professional. She was at the beginning of her life and her journey and had so much more life to live.”
More than a decade ago, a former girlfriend of Roberts had told Savannah State University (SSU) campus police that he had been “spreading rumors on Twitter that she infected Roberts with a venereal disease”, according to records reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle. The Chronicle also reported that the woman had said she was no longer dating Roberts but that he had continued texting her and spreading alleged rumors to the point that she remotely deleted his social media accounts.
Following his suspension from SSU, Roberts accused the university administration of conducting an “excessively hurried investigation” that discriminated against him “on the basis of his male sex”, the Chronicle wrote.
In 2017, DeVos told a crowd at George Mason University: “This young man was suspended via a campus-wide email which declared him a ‘threat to the campus community’.
“When he tried to learn the reason for his suspension, he was barred from campus … This young man was denied due process. Despondent and without options or hope, after five years of sobriety, he relapsed and attempted to take his own life.”
Following DeVos’s unveiling of the new rule, Roberts told Politico: “Today is a reaffirmation of what I and other families knew the entire time: We were just victims of the previous administration’s policy.”
In 2018, Roberts gave an interview to ABC while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. “I don’t feel safe,” he said and claimed that the alleged accusations “derailed his dream of graduation”. He then described a suicide attempt, saying: “That was the worst.”
Roberts has pleaded not guilty and was booked into the Santa Rita jail without the option to post bail.