Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

More Videos Reported in SF Police Killing

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Cellphone videos show San Francisco police cooked up a false story about their "public execution" of Mario Woods, a young black man who was riddled with bullets two weeks ago, his mother claims in court.

The release of video of the killing prompted calls for Police Chief Greg Shur to resign.

In the video, a woman cries six times, "Just drop it! Just drop it!" Woods crouches against a wall as five officers train their guns on him from a few feet away. Two pops are heard, apparently the rubber bullets mentioned in the lawsuit. One officer separates from the others toward the left, as Woods heads that way, slowly and uncertainly. A hail of gunfire erupts, 20 seconds into the video, and Woods dies as the woman continues screaming.

According to the lawsuit, at least two other videos of the shooting have been found.

Gwendolyn Brooks sued the City of County of San Francisco on Friday in Federal Court for the wrongful death of her 26-year-old son.

The lawsuit, filed by John Burris, claims that the defendant Doe police officers approached Woods on the afternoon of Dec. 2 in the Bayview neighborhood, "because he loosely fit the description of a suspect they were looking for earlier in the day."

"Mr. Woods attempted to avoid an interaction with the officers by slowly moving away from the officers, while periodically stopping and making incoherent gestures," his mom says.

One or more officers shot him with rubber bullets, then one of them "placed himself directly in Mr. Woods' path, while pointing his gun at Mr. Woods," his mother says.

That is corroborated by the video.

His mother says her son "did not pose a direct threat to anyone and had his hands by his side," but several officers opened fire on him, killing him with "20+ gunshot wounds."

"The horrific public execution was caught on video by at least three different people, which show the shooting from several angles. None of the videos show Mr. Woods creating an imminent threat to anyone prior to being riddled with bullets from head to toe," his mom says in the complaint.

The shooting prompted protests in San Francisco and calls for Suhr to resign.

During a police commission meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9, Suhr said video evidence shows Woods raised his right arm, with a knife, and threatened an officer who backed away from him before the shooting began.

That does not appear to be corroborated by the only video that has been released.

Attorney Burris rejected the claim.

"I'm sort of insulted by the chief's comments that he would make, a comment to justify and support the police officers' conduct so quickly," Burris said. He criticized the police chief for making "premature conclusions" before investigation.

The lawsuit calls it a "modern day public execution by a five-member SFPD firing squad."

Failure to discipline the officers exposes a police culture that tolerates use of excessive force, deliberate indifference and fabrication of official reports to cover up police misconduct, according to the complaint.

Mayor Ed Lee last week ordered Suhr to review his department's policies on use of force and revamp officer training to emphasize lethal force as the method of last resort.

The mayor said: "Since last week, the chief is already equipping officers with protective shields, instituting significant changes to instruction for when and how officers use their firearms, and increasing mandatory, recurring training on de-escalation skills. Our Police Department will have at least as much training in de-escalation as we do in use of force."

San Francisco has seen 103 officer-involved shootings since 2000, resulting in 37 deaths and 35 injuries, according to the lawsuit.

No officer was ever found to be at fault or to have violated policy in any of the shootings, even those that occurred "under the most questionable circumstances," the complaint states.

The Friday lawsuit blames five Doe officers for the shooting. San Francisco media over the weekend, attributing the information to the Police Department, said the officers involved were Winson Seto, Antonio Santos, Charles August, Nicholas Cuevas and Scott Phillips.

The police department did not return phone calls Sunday seeking confirmation of the officers' names.

Woods' mother seeks punitive damages for wrongful death and civil rights violations.

Attorney Burris, of Oakland, represented Rodney King in his civil lawsuit against Los Angeles after King's beating, captured on camera, sparked riots there in 1991. Burris also negotiated a settlement in a lawsuit against Oakland that placed Oakland's Police Department under a court monitor for five years.

Woods' death was the latest in a string of officer-involved deaths of often unarmed black men in the past 18 months, including the July 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York; the August 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.; the October 2014 shooting death of Laquan McDonald in Chicago; the November 2014 shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice , who held a toy gun, in Cleveland; the April 2015 death of Freddie Gray , in a police van in Baltimore; and the opening of a federal investigation of the Chicago police.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.