Friday, September 29, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Officer tells jury he beat man with baton to protect his partner

A police officer on trial for criminal assault testified that he had to use his baton to stop a man of superior size and strength from hurting him and his partner.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Facing criminal charges for on-duty assault, a police officer told jurors Wednesday he was only trying to protect himself and his partner when he struck an unarmed Black man with his nightstick about eight times, causing severe injuries.

“I was trying to get him to stop fighting my partner,” San Francisco police officer Terrance Stangel testified.

Stangel's case is the first prosecution of a police officer brought to trial under the leadership of progressive San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who has vowed to hold police accountable for misconduct.

The criminal assault charges stem from an Oct. 6, 2019, incident when Stangel and his then-partner officer Cuahtemoc Martinez tried to stop and question a domestic violence suspect near Pier 39 in San Francisco. Officers say the suspect, Dacari Spiers, refused to comply with their commands and shoved them away when they tried to detain him. Spiers denied pushing the officers in previous testimony.

On the ninth day of a trial that has escalated tensions between the police force and district attorney’s office, Stangel told jurors he felt “betrayed” by the city he swore to serve and protect.

Growing up in the small Northern California town of Portola, Stangel said he dreamed of becoming a police officer from a young age. He always admired how his uncle and close family friends in law enforcement cared about serving their communities and helping others, he said.

After graduating from University of Nevada, Reno, with a degree in criminal justice, Stangel landed a job as a San Francisco police recruit in 2015, did eight months of academy training and started patrolling the city’s streets.

On the night of Oct. 6, 2019, Stangel and his partner responded to a report that a man was choking his girlfriend and dragging her by the neck. When they arrived at the intersection of Beach and Powell streets, Stangel’s partner, Martinez, immediately rushed out of the police car toward Spiers, who matched the description of the suspect. Shouting “come here,” Martinez grabbed Spiers by the shoulders and pulled him away from his then-girlfriend Breonna Richard as she cried out “What did he do?”

Stangel parked the squad car he was driving and ran to catch up with Martinez, who he immediately sensed was in danger, according to his testimony. Stangel said Spiers “exploded” at his partner and started throwing Martinez around.

“I was scared Martinez was going to get hurt so I knew I needed to do something to help him,” Stangel said.

Stangel told jurors that he tried to subdue Spiers using just his hands, but it didn’t work.

“As soon as I grabbed a hold of him, it was like trying to grab a pissed off NFL player,” Stangel said. “He was huge.”

Stangel then deployed his baton and started hitting Spiers. After a few strikes, Spiers collapsed to he ground, but Stangel said Spiers continued to kick at him, using his feet as weapons.

Stangel’s lawyer played a body camera video of shadows on the pavement that appear to show Spiers kicking his legs up toward Stangel. In prior testimony, Spiers said he was simply moving his legs to avoid getting hit with the baton.

As Stangel delivered the baton strikes, Spiers can be heard on video shouting “What the fuck you hit me for?”

Spiers and his former girlfriend Richard previously testified that Spiers never harmed her. Defense witnesses have stated the officers had a duty to immediately separate Spiers from his girlfriend because he may have still posed a threat to her safety. The two were standing close together and talking when police arrived.

The baton beating left Spiers with a broken wrist, broken leg and other injuries.

Stangel told jurors that he never intended to break Spiers’ bones.

“I was just trying to get us out of the situation without either of us getting hurt,” Stangel said.

On cross examination, Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young suggested that Stangel violated state and local police protocols by failing to give Spiers a chance to comply with officers’ commands.

“While you were hitting Mr. Spiers, you never told him to surrender, did you,” Young asked.

“I don’t think so,” Stangel replied

The prosecutor also tried to counter Stangel’s claims that he had to use his baton because Spiers was much larger and stronger than him. She asked about Stangel playing quarterback on high school and college football teams and about him passing physical fitness tests to become an officer.

She also noted that at six feet tall, Stangel is about the same height as Spiers, even though Spiers was about 50 pounds heavier than Stangel at that time.

“Would you agree that you were in far better physical condition than he was?” Young asked.

Stangel didn't fully agree with that assessment.

Also on Wednesday, two use-of-force experts testified that Stangel’s use of the baton was reasonable and justified.

Sean McCann, an administration of justice professor at Napa Valley College, told jurors that Stangel’s use of the baton was “wholly within exactly what we teach in regard to this particular tool.”

McCann is expected to continue testifying on Thursday in a trial that has deepened an already wide chasm of mistrust between the city’s police department and district attorney’s office.

Earlier this month, Police Chief Bill Scott said he would cancel an agreement that makes the district attorney’s office lead investigator for police misconduct, shootings and use-of-force cases after the DA’s office was accused of withholding evidence related to Stangel’s case from the police department.

Three state and city officials announced Wednesday that the agreement would be extended another 60 days to give both sides time to keep negotiating changes while independent investigations of police use-of-force continue.

Follow @NicholasIovino
Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.