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San Francisco Settles Police Shooting Suit Ahead of Trial

The city of San Francisco on Tuesday settled a high-profile civil rights suit over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old black man, just days before a widely anticipated trial was set to start.

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The city of San Francisco on Tuesday settled a high-profile civil rights suit over the 2015 police shooting death of Mario Woods, a 26-year-old black man, just days before a widely anticipated trial was set to start.

Terms of the settlement, which must be approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, will remain confidential for 30 days, according to the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

Woods was killed on Dec. 2, 2015, when five officers fired 27 bullets at the knife-wielding suspect – 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.

The police department initially said Woods had lunged at an officer with a 4.5-inch knife before he was shot, but cellphone videos and some eyewitnesses appeared to contradict that version of events. Woods' mother 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.

The shooting sparked 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.

Jury selection for the two-week trial was set to begin Friday, and the trial was scheduled to commence April 1.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III denied the city's request to prevent the jury from hearing a witness exclaim "that was unnecessary" in a video of the police shooting.

The San Francisco City Attorney's Office would not say whether that ruling played a role in its decision to settle the case, but it did defend the five officers accused of excessive force in an emailed statement Tuesday.

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

The City Attorney's Office added that it considers any loss of life tragic, and that the settlement will allow both sides to resolve the case without a trial.

"Hopefully it will help bring closure for all involved," Cote said.

Damages for grief and emotional distress are not recoverable in wrongful death suits under California law, but Woods’ mother sought damages for “the loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support.”

Her attorney, John Burris, did not immediately respond to an email request for an interview, but the civil rights attorney has previously said that his client was seeking "substantial" damages for the death of her son.

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