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Man beaten by San Francisco police says he feared for his life

Dacari Spiers said he thought he might die at the hands of a police officer’s metal baton, but the officer’s lawyer said Spiers has a history of violence, fought against police and refused to comply with their orders.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — In a rare criminal trial against a police officer, a Black man told jurors Wednesday that he feared for his life when a police baton kept striking him after he hit the ground, breaking his arm and leg and causing long-lasting emotional trauma.

“I was just thinking that they were going to kill me because I couldn’t move,” Dacari Spiers said.

Spiers testified on the third day of trial against Terrance Stangel, the first San Francisco police officer to face a criminal jury trial for on-duty assault.

Stangel’s then-partner, Officer Cuahtemoc Martinez, testified this week that he thought Spiers’ girlfriend Breonna Richard was in danger when he tried to pull Spiers away from her on a city street near Pier 39 on Oct. 6, 2019.

Martinez said he believed Stangel’s use of the baton was justified because Spiers was pushing and shoving both officers and refusing to comply with their commands.

On Wednesday, Spiers told jurors he was consoling his girlfriend, who was upset that her wallet had been stolen, when Martinez came out of nowhere, failed to identify himself, started barking orders and grabbed him by the shoulders.

“It happened so fast,” Spiers said. “I was being grabbed.”

After Spiers appeared to shove both officers away, Stangel started beating the man with a metal baton. Spiers said he dropped to the ground, thinking that would make the beating stop. It didn’t.

“I was trying to stay from getting hit, but they kept hitting my legs,” Spiers said. “Every time I would stop another hit would come so I tried to stay away from it.”

During opening arguments Monday, Stangel’s attorney Nicole Pifari showed jurors a video of shadows on the ground which she said showed Spiers continuing to kick his legs at Stangel after he hit the ground. Pifari said Stangel had to keep using his baton to make Spiers stop resisting and kicking his legs.

Spiers told jurors that he never threatened, punched or kicked the officers.

“When you were on the ground, were your legs moving?” Assistant District Attorney Hans Moore asked.

“Yeah, from trying not to get hit,” Spiers replied.

Spiers said he suffered a broken wrist and broken leg, had to undergo multiple surgeries and spent more than a month in physical rehabilitation. He said the beating also left permanent emotional scars.

“I’m a very prideful person,” Spiers said. “I take pride in everything I do. There wasn’t nothing to be proud of. I’ve never been in that weakened state before.”

On cross-examination, Stangel’s lawyer played a video showing Spiers’ hand extended toward Officer Martinez during the altercation and asked if the video shows him pushing the officer.

"No, it appears he’s grabbing me, and I’m trying to get away from him grabbing me," Spiers replied.

Stangel’s lawyer played another video of Spiers in an ambulance that night saying he put his hand out and “pushed him back,” supposedly referring to Officer Martinez.

Spiers said he was “discombobulated,” in pain, in shock and on medication at the time he made that statement.

“I don’t know what I said,” Spiers said. “I don’t even remember exactly what happened.”

Echoing the account of Richard, who testified Tuesday, Spiers told jurors he never harmed his then-girlfriend. Two witnesses who called police that night reported seeing a man matching Spiers’ description choke a woman and drag her by the neck.

Asked about two prior domestic violence arrests, Spiers said he fully cooperated with police in both cases and was never convicted of domestic violence. He denied having ever physically harmed one of his girlfriends.

Spiers acknowledged three prior assault convictions. Pifari asked why Spiers pleaded guilty to beating a man in 2018, noting Spiers knocked the man’s teeth out and kept kicking the unconscious man, eventually causing him to lose control of his bowels and defecate himself.

“I was trying to protect my girlfriend a little too much,” Spiers answered.

Pifari also played a video of officers serving Spiers a restraining order to stay away from his then-girlfriend three days after the baton beating. Spiers said the officers were trying to intimidate him.

“Did you hear the officers threaten you in that video?” Pifari asked.

“They didn’t have to threaten me with words,” Spiers replied.

“The officers were actually quite polite and tolerant with you, weren’t they,” Pifari observed.

“Just because somebody doesn’t say it directly, their body language, the way they looking at you, that’s telling me not to testify,” Spiers responded.

Spiers, whose $700,000 civil rights settlement was approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors this week, is expected to continue his testimony Thursday.

This case has widened an already deep chasm of trust between the district attorney's office and police department. Claims that the DA's office withheld evidence from police in the Stangel case could undo a 2019 agreement that makes the DA's office lead investigator for police use-of-force incidents.

Police Chief Bill Scott has moved to terminate the agreement and asked California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office for guidance on finding alternatives for independent investigations of officer misconduct. Boudin has promised his office will continue to investigate police shootings, excessive force and other police misconduct, even if the police department refuses to cooperate with those investigations.

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