In a federal civil lawsuit filed Friday lawyers for Amilcar Pérez-López said they have an autopsy, three eyewitnesses and post-shooting photographs that show police shot the 20-year-old Guatemalan in the back as he fled from the plainclothes officers.
A press conference held to mark the filing of the suit revealed more inconsistencies in the accounts of the February 26 shooting.
The SFPD account given by Chief Greg Suhr, stating officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli fired in self-defense as Pérez-López brandished a knife toward them, “is a lie,” said Arnoldo Casillas of the Casillas, Moreno & Associates law firm.
Invoking the high profile case of a South Carolina man recently shot from behind by a police officer, Casillas — one of the lawyers representing Pérez-López’s parents — said, “This is that case.”
From a private autopsy conducted by the Sonoma County Coroners’ office, Casillas said all six of Pérez-López’s wounds show the bullets entered from behind.
“Someone charging at you with a knife held high doesn’t get shot in the back of the head,” said Casillas. “How is Chief Suhr going to explain this?”
“People lie,” he continued. “Physical evidence doesn’t lie.”
In addition to the autopsy report, lawyers Casillas and Jonathan Melrod said they have three eyewitnesses — including the bicyclist, Abraham Perez, whom police had said earlier thanked them for protecting him. The lawyers said the witness accounts confirm that Pérez-López was shot in the back.
Two of the witnesses are only identified as “Mr. D.” and “Mr. V.” because “they fear for their lives,” said Casillas. Mission Local reported earlier on some of inconsistencies between police and these eyewitnesses.
Pérez-López was approached from behind by two plainclothes officers, lawyers contend. Because of that, “Amilcar was not able to determine that the men were police officers,” the complaint reads. “One of the officers grabbed (Pérez-López) and secured a bear-hug hold around Amilcar’s petite upper body.”
Then Pérez-López wriggled from the officer’s hold and ran away, according to the witness accounts. “They (heard) Amilcar drop the knife,” said Casillas. “It hits the pavement with a clank. Then they hear shots.”
Although it has been said the altercation that prompted the shooting was over a stolen cell phone, lawyers said the argument between Pérez-López and bicyclist Abraham Perez ensued after the latter tried to enter Pérez-López’s apartment.
Pérez-López chased Perez away from the building with a knife, Casillas said, and was returning to his apartment when police intervened.
Perez, however, has said that the argument was a dispute over Pérez-López purchasing his bicycle. Casillas is concerned that Perez may skew his account to avoid personal blame.
While the police account said bicyclist Perez was grateful to SFPD for intervening in his altercation with Pérez-López, the lawyers said his words to them “were just the contrary.“
The bicyclist “couldn’t believe that they had actually shot (Pérez-López),” said Casillas. “He said that after the shooting, he called out, ‘Hey!’”
Following the shots, the lawyers said a neighbor took photos from his home across the street, showing Pérez-López’s body lying in the street. They said it demonstrates he was fleeing from the police when he was shot.
“The federal civil lawsuit alleges (Pérez-López) was wrongfully, unconstitutionally and illegally killed,” said Casillas.
Additionally, he said they reached out to the district attorney’s office on Wednesday to ask it to investigate the case. “We’ve basically given them all of our case to this point,” he said, “hoping they will do the right thing.”
They said they are also calling on Police Chief Suhr to recant his version of the shooting.
“I’m here to say black lives matter and brown lives matter,” said Jonathan Melrod, another lawyer in the Pérez-López case, referring to what he called a “siege” against Latinos in the Mission District. “If you were Amilcar, and you were grabbed from behind, and you didn’t know who it was, would you not have run?”
“The Mission District has a cancer,” said Casillas, referring to other police involved violence, including the shooting of Alejandro “Alex” Nieto. Nieto’s parents were present for the press conference.
From their home in North Guatemala, Pérez-López’s parents Juan Perez and Margarita Lopez-Perez spoke over a brief video call at the press conference for the suit against Chief Suhr, officers Tiffe and Reboli, and the city. Interpreting the parents’ words, Casillas said, “This is the last thing they expected, of how their son would come back to them from the United States.”
Although it has not yet reviewed the case, Matt Dorsey, press secretary for the city attorney’s office, said, “The allegations we’ve seen in the press release (for the lawsuit) are not consistent with the eyewitness accounts and evidence we’re aware of.” He said that, based on the evidence they have seen, the shooting “was a justified use of force.”
A vigil and “Justice for Amilcar” march will take place at 6 p.m. Friday, starting at Folsom and 24th streets.