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San Francisco settles suit over police beating for $700,000

The settlement follows a federal judge’s order requiring the release of body camera footage and comes as the officer accused of beating Dacari Spiers fights assault charges in criminal court.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — The city of San Francisco will pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over the brutal beating of a Black man by a baton-wielding police officer who now faces criminal assault charges.

Dacari Spiers sued the city in February 2020 for civil rights violations, false arrest, battery, negligence and supervisor liability. He claims officer Terrance Stangel, who is being prosecuted for assault and other charges, beat him without justification.

Spiers suffered a broken wrist and leg, which required surgery, along with several lacerations that required stitches. He was forced to use a wheelchair during his recovery.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who has vowed to hold officers accountable for misconduct, charged Stangel in December 2020 on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, assault under color of authority and battery with serious bodily injury.

The proposed $700,000 settlement was posted on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Feb. 1 meeting agenda Friday. The board must approve the deal before it can be finalized.

Spiers’ lawyer Curtis Briggs said he believes the settlement is fair, but added the beating was traumatic for his client and emblematic of more widespread problems within the San Francisco Police Department.

“The violent beating of Dacari is the tip of the iceberg as San Francisco police supervisors and city employees rigorously defend mentally imbalanced officers every day in court,” Briggs said via text message.

A spokeswoman for San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu emphasized that the city accepts no blame for the accusations leveled in Spiers’ lawsuit.

“We believe the proposed settlement is an appropriate resolution given the inherent costs of continued litigation,” spokeswoman Jen Kwart said. “There is no admission of liability on the part of the officers or the city."

In his lawsuit, Spiers says he was consoling his girlfriend near Pier 39 on Oct. 6, 2019, after she realized her wallet was missing. Police officers approached the couple and started questioning Spiers, who matched the description of a suspect that reportedly choked and dragged a woman by her neck in the area, according to police reports and audio from a 911 call.

SFPD officer Cuahtemoc Martinez ordered Spiers to turn around and did not respond when Spiers and his girlfriend asked why he was being stopped. Martinez tried to grab Spiers, who resisted.

Approaching Spiers from behind, officer Terrance Stangel started beating the suspect with a baton as Spiers yelled “What the fuck you hit me for? I didn’t do nothing,” according to body camera footage released in December 2020.

He also claims officers visited him at St. Francis Hospital three days later and attempted to threaten him to remain silent about the assault and to coerce him into not seeking legal representation over the beating.

Nearly one year ago, a federal judge overseeing the civil lawsuit ordered the city to release full body camera videos from the night Spiers was beaten and from when officers visited Spiers in the hospital three days later. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, now a district court judge nominee, said because police previously released portions of the videos, they shouldn’t be allowed to “cherry pick” which parts are made public. Such “cherry picking” could risk biasing a jury, the judge said at the time.

In the ongoing criminal case, Stangel’s lawyer recently tried to get the charges dismissed based on accusations that the DA’s office withheld evidence. A DA’s office investigator testified this week that she felt pressured to remove certain details from an affidavit supporting the charges against Stangel. The officer’s lawyers said evidence that a witness saw Spiers beating his girlfriend justified the use of force. A judge indicated at a hearing Thursday that details from a followup interview with the witness appeared to offer no new significant evidence that would make a difference in the case, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Spiers’ lawyer, Briggs, said the proposed $700,000 settlement will provide some measure of justice for his client but won't make up for the trauma and physical injuries he suffered at the hands of police.

“Mr. Spiers will never be able to put this brutal and senseless beating completely behind him,” Briggs said. “The public would be terrified if they knew how pervasive these beatings are in the community.”

SFPD spokesman Robert Rueca declined to respond to claims that the department hasn’t done enough to rein in unjustified police violence against citizens.

The department has attained substantial compliance with 90% of 272 police reform recommendations as part of a 2016 collaborative review process with the U.S. Justice Department. The SFPD has yet to comply with 27 recommendations regarding use-of-force data collection and record-keeping, bias training, officer discipline process reviews and officer performance evaluations.

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