The police shooting that took place Saturday morning in the Mission District of San Francisco involved an apparently homeless person. Because of that and because this is the first police shooting since the summer of 2018, the behavior of the police is being scrutinized. So far there is a broad range of eyewitness stories that don’t quite agree. First, here’s the statement on the incident that was released by the police:
At approximately 8:34 AM, officers responded to a call at 23rd Street and Capp Street regarding a report of a hot prowl burglary. The officers made contact with a person matching the description of a suspect. The suspect assaulted the officers with a weapon. An officer-involved shooting occurred. The suspect and an officer were transported to a hospital.
So far, police haven’t said what the weapon was that was used in the attack but a source told the San Francisco Chronicle one of the officers was hit with a bottle. A witness who heard the shots described the scene immediately after the shooting. Lisa Ruth told the San Francisco Chronicle that both officers appeared to be doing their best to keep the suspect alive. One of the officers was bleeding from the face and appeared to her to have a broken nose. She also noted an injury to the officer’s neck that looked to her like “rope burn.” Ruth said the other officer, the one who shot the suspect, was crying and appeared “really upset.”
But a second witness told a different story. According to a person identified only as Joe, there was no weapon involved just a homeless man who threw a punch.
A neighborhood resident who identified himself only by his first name, Joe, told The Chronicle that he was hanging out outside of his apartment building at 23rd and Capp streets in the moments leading up to the shooting.
The resident said two San Francisco police officers approached an apparently homeless man on 23rd Street around the corner from Mission Street and asked him to move along. The resident said the man punched one of the officers in the face, prompting the second officer to draw his gun and shoot six times. After a pause, the officer shot twice more, the resident said.
And that stories differs from a third account published by the site Mission Local. The unnamed eyewitness claims the police executed the man.
The witness, who declined to be identified, said that he observed a “clearly” intoxicated man from his truck at around 8:30 in the morning. Not long thereafter, a San Francisco Police Department SUV rolled up.
The witness says two officers chased the man about the intersection on foot. He said the officers pepper-sprayed the man and may have applied other less-lethal devices as well.
The man did not appear to be armed; the witness recalled “his arms waving around.” Some manner of physical interaction ensued. During this time, while the man was on the ground, the witness says the subject was shot by both of the officers. The witness counted eight to 10 shots.
Following the shooting, the witness said an officer pointed a gun in his direction, and he ducked. He described the shooting as “a broad daylight execution.”
There’s a lot more detail in this version of events but it’s significant different from the other accounts in several ways. This witness claims the suspect was intoxicated, that the officers chased and pepper-sprayed him, and that both officers shot him while he was on the ground. There’s also no mention of any attack by the suspect on the police.
The claim about both officers firing will be easy to verify as will the exact number of shots. The bit about using pepper spray might actually help to demonstrate that officers didn’t immediately jump to a shooting, but if it happened it’s odd that eyewitness Joe didn’t mention it.
This seems like one of those cases where the stories vary so much that some people will immediately blame the police while others see this as a response to an attack. The San Francisco Examiner reports that later in the day there were already a few protesters near the scene carrying signs:
Dyne Biancardi, a tenant attorney who lives in the Mission District, held up a cardboard sign that read “homeless man shot by police today.”
“This is part of a pattern of police brutality that is a major concern throughout the whole country,” Biancardi said. “We cannot accept this in San Francisco, where the homelessness crisis is out of control. There are five empty homes to one homeless person.”
The Examiner also has seen video of the aftermath of the shooting but hasn’t released it so far as I can tell. Police will hold a town hall meeting with the next 10 days to discuss the shooting. Perhaps by then we’ll have a clearer picture of what happened.