San Francisco Asks Feds to Probe Police Shootings | Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 2, 2023
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San Francisco Asks Feds to Probe Police Shootings

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously requested a federal investigation of the deaths of three young men killed by police in the past 18 months.

Supervisors approved the resolution one day after Mayor Ed Lee called for the Department of Justice to probe the Dec. 2 police shooting of 26-year-old Mario Woods.

Woods' death , which sparked protests, criticism of the mayor and calls for Police Chief Greg Suhr to resign, prompted an overhaul of the city police department's use of force policies.

"As we ask for an investigation into Mario Woods, I would ask that the other recent controversial killings also be investigated," District 11 Supervisor John Avalos said at the Tuesday meeting.

Avalos asked that a resolution urging federal authorities to investigate Woods's death be amended to also request probes into the police shootings of Alejandro "Alex" Nieto and Amilcar Perez-Lopez.

Nieto, a 28-year-old student and security guard, was shot dead in Bernal Heights Park in March 2014 by police officers who said they mistook his work-issued Taser for a gun.

Perez-Lopez, a 20-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, was shot dead in February 2015 by police in the Mission District, who said he lunged at them with a knife. The officers' account was contradicted by eyewitness testimony and an autopsy showing Perez-Lopez was shot four times in the back.

"These are cases that cause a great deal of consternation and grief in the Mission District and Bernal Heights," Avalos said. "It wasn't until the recent killing of Mario Woods that we really talked about this as something that needs to be investigated."

The board also unanimously approved a resolution affirming its commitment to police accountability and racial justice in the police department.

District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, representing the Bayview neighborhood, where Woods was shot, asked that the city change its policies to ensure that every police shooting is investigated by the city's Office of Citizen Complaints.

"Currently, these sorts of investigations are only performed when an individual submits a written request to the OCC or when the incident involves death," Cohen said. "This unfortunately leads to an investigation rate of 40 to 50 percent."

Cohen said she will introduce the policy change as a ballot initiative in June. Though the board has the power to make that change without a referendum, she said she wants voters be aware of and weigh in on the process.

Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Lee briefly appeared for his monthly discussion with the board and highlighted the city's efforts to reform the police department.

In December, the city announced a new policy requiring officers to file a written report justifying their actions any time they draw a gun on a person.

The mayor said he asked the city police chief and police commission to submit a detailed plan for further reforms by Feb. 15. The city is in holding a series of community meetings to solicit feedback on recommendations to overhaul its use-of-force policies.

Mario Woods Remembrance Day

The board also unanimously approved a resolution declaring July 22 Mario Woods Remembrance Day, despite opposition from the city police union.

In a Monday letter to the board, Martin Halloran, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, called the resolution "completely inappropriate" and "hurtful" to the families of police officers who have died in the line of duty.

Halloran cited a Jan. 23 San Francisco Chronicle article that cited a police report stating that before he died, Woods had reached into the passenger side of a car with a knife before slashing a man on the street with no provocation.

The victim said the suspect who stabbed him "was not making sense and appeared to be under the influence of something," the Chronicle said, citing the police report.

Two officers who spotted Woods as a suspect say he "backpedaled" and grabbed a knife from his jeans pocket as they approached him.

Woods said something to the effect of "You're not taking me today," according to an account from the unidentified partner of Officer Charles August, one of five officers who shot Woods.

Woods' last words were, "You better squeeze that mother-and kill me," according to the unnamed officer cited in the report.

Woods was shot more than 20 times by five officers. Cellphone video footage contradicted initial statements by police that Woods had lunged at the officers with a knife.

Halloran said in a statement Monday that the board was seeking a day of remembrance for "a convicted felon, validated gang member, who allegedly attempted to murder an innocent victim in the Bayview."

District 9 Supervisor David Campos called the police union's tactics divisive and said the city need not choose between honoring public servants who died in the line of duty and recognizing problems that need to be fixed in the police department.

"These issues are not mutually exclusive, and I think it's sad that instead of recognizing that we have a problem, the union of police officers is trying to pit one family against another family," Campos said. "We in San Francisco are better than that."

Woods mother, Gwendolyn Brooks, also addressed the board Tuesday night and thanked them for supporting the resolution for a day of remembrance for her son.

When she accepted a high school diploma on behalf of her son earlier this month, Brooks said it felt to her as if "it came from Princeton."

"I have to live my life without him and all the hopes I had for him, and all my dreams," Brooks said. "Yeah, they can have a day for my baby."

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said the city must hold police accountable and make sure "we're not bullied by organizations" like the Police Officer's Association.

Kim said she does not believe the police union adequately represents the views of all the city's officers.

"Police reform is not an attack on the San Francisco Police Department," Kim said. "We fund this organization. We fund these training programs that told our officers to shoot Mario Woods, who I believe should be with his mother here today. If these are the training and tools we give our officers, then we need to change that."

Later in the evening, District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell asked that the board also create a day of remembrance anytime a member of the city's public safety departments dies in the line of duty. No other supervisors commented on the proposal.

The board unanimously approved the resolution making July 22 as a day of remembrance for Mario Woods.

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