San Francisco Approves $400,000 Settlement for Police Shooting Death

The The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a settlement over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods. (BrokenSphere via Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $400,000 settlement over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods, an event that prompted years of litigation and a federal review of the city’s police department.

Woods, a 26-year-old black man, was killed on Dec. 2, 2015, when five officers fired 27 bullets at him – hitting him 21 times – after less lethal beanbag rounds failed to subdue him. An autopsy revealed Woods had methamphetamine and THC in his system when he died. He was suspected of stabbing a man earlier that day.

The police department initially said Woods had lunged at an officer with a 4.5-inch knife when he was shot, but cellphone videos and some eyewitnesses contradicted that version of events. Woods’ mother, Gwendolyn Woods, insists her son was in the midst of a mental health crisis and that officers failed to follow their training and use de-escalation tactics before resorting to lethal force.

Gwendolyn Woods’ attorney Patrick Buelna, of the John Burris law firm, said the settlement helps bring closure to a grieving mother who fought for more than three years to hold the city accountable for her son’s death.

“She can take the first step in getting some closure and being able to move on and heal further,” Buelna said.

John Cote, spokesman for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, said any loss of life is tragic, but in this case the police did nothing wrong.

“Police officers are often forced into difficult situations and have to make split-second decisions in dangerous and evolving circumstances,” Cote said. “In this case, the officers’ response to a risky situation was consistent with their training and in accordance with the law.”

The case was settled in March, just days before a federal jury trial was set to begin April 1. Now that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved it, the settlement is final. 

The shooting sparked a series of protests, leading to a federal review of the San Francisco Police Department and changes to its training guidelines and use-of-force policies, including a requirement that police officers shoot twice and stop. 

Despite those reforms, Buelna said it “remains to be seen whether or not those changes have been enacted in such a way to produce a better police department.”

The civil rights lawyer said that San Francisco, like many other police departments, still struggles in how it responds to people experiencing mental health crises. Instead of shouting orders and pointing guns, Buelna said police should be trained to use de-escalation tactics.

“It’s trying to establish some sort of rapport with the person, calm them down, learn their name,” he said. “Otherwise it escalates a mental health crisis. They get more scared, more upset.”

In October 2016, the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released 272 recommendations for updating use-of-force policies, reducing bias and improving transparency and accountability in the San Francisco Police Department. 

The California Department of Justice, which took on the role of reviewing the city’s progress in implementing those reforms last year, released a report in May finding the SFPD “substantially compliant” with 11 of 63 reviewed recommendations.

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