Police Shoot and Kill Homeless Man in SF Mission

Photo by Laura Waxmann

Update: The Medical Examiner identified the shooting victim on Friday as 45-year-old Luis Gongora, a San Francisco resident. The Medical Examiner will conduct an autopsy to determine cause of death.

San Francisco police officers shot and killed a homeless man who police say was brandishing a knife at 18th and Shotwell shortly after 10 a.m. on Thursday morning — though witnesses say the man never brandished a knife and had it tucked into his waistband when he was shot.

The homeless man — a regular known to nearby residents — was taken into surgery at San Francisco General Hospital but died at around 1 p.m., according to a hospital spokesperson.

Officers were called to the scene by members of a homeless outreach team who reported a man on Shotwell Street waving a long kitchen knife, Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

Suhr said officers from Mission Station responded to the scene at 10:01 a.m. Two officers, one a sergeant, went up the block on Shotwell Street where they encountered an adult Latino man with a 10- to 12-inch-long kitchen knife.

Suhr went on to say that the officers first fired bean-bag rounds to disable the suspect, but that the man then got up and charged at them with the knife, at which point the officers fired. Seven casings were recovered from the scene, the chief added. Albie Esparza, a police spokesperson, later added that four bean-bag rounds were fired followed by seven handgun shots.

But two residents of the homeless encampment where the victim reportedly stayed said officers shot the man as he was sitting down, unable to understand their commands.

John Visor, another resident of the encampment, said he knew the man — who he called Jose — and that he never brandished the knife at officers. Visor said the weapon had been tucked into the man’s waistband, with the blade pointing down, throughout the incident.

“To me it was a kitchen knife, one of the ones we use to cut with,” said Visor. “I lost my best friend. People shouldn’t be dying like this…I want him to get his rights, he wasn’t hurting nobody, all he did for a living was pick up trash and bottles.”

Stephanie Grant, another resident of the encampment, agreed that the man never pulled out his knife. She added that the man is a monolingual Spanish speaker who did not speak a word of English.

“We would have to go through somebody else who speaks Spanish o translate to him,” said Visor. He also said the man had been living in the encampment for several months. 

Grant and Visor expressed surprise that a homeless outreach team member would contact the police to report a man with a knife, saying it is common for homeless individuals to have knives and that outreach team members know this.

Below are video excerpts of Visor’s statements:

Meanwhile, a user on NextDoor — the neighborhood network app — posted on Thursday that he witnessed the shooting and said the man was no threat.

“To be clear, the victim was on the ground the entire time, head down, visibly shaking. There was no visible aggressive behavior,” the user wrote.

“It’s always tragic when this happens. We’ve been working very hard to contend with folks with edged weapons,” Suhr said. “This event unfolded very quickly.”

Suhr said he wasn’t sure whether the officers who responded had received Crisis Intervention Training, but that ideally those officers would be called to the scene first. Witnesses told police that the man had been living in the homeless encampment there for several months.

No officers were injured in the incident, Suhr said.

“We heard at least nine shots. They were loud and really fast,” said Gary Segel, who works at nearby SF Auto Repair. “One after the other – it didn’t even sound like two guns.”

Segel said he noticed a homeless encampment sweep early this morning when he parked his car on Folsom Street, and noted that he often sees fights breaking out at encampments but that he has never seen any involving weapons.

Demetrius Charlestown, who said he lives in a tent next to the one belonging to the man who was shot, said the man was prone to verbal outbursts, but that Charlestown himself did not perceive him as a threat.

“He didn’t speak much English but carried a big knife. Like a butcher knife. Of course, the officers, they see that, it’s over,” Charlestown said. “Any kind of weapon like that, you’re threatening. But he was cool, he was a good guy. I wasn’t afraid of him, but I knew how to handle him.”

Charlestown said he plans to leave the encampment by tomorrow.

“The cops are going to come back and shut this down. I know that. I’m getting out of here.”

This is a developing story and we will update with new information as we get it. 

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14 Comments

  1. Ana F.

    Report that the victim died, according to SFGH. Can you confirm? https://twitter.com/SFNewsReporter/status/718172506281017344

  2. Tragic news all around. More facts to emerge but rest assured the corrupt DA Gascon won’t indict any SFPD killer-cop in this case. He’s too busy with his p.r. stunt panel looking at naughty emails, which by the way he didn’t release a single email last week with his new allegations. He gets away with diverting our attn from deadly and harmful SFPD officers via the blue ribbon panel and tightly-controlled public events. Corrupt Gascon needs waaaaaaaaaaaaay more scrutiny and pressure.

    To help deliver that, I filed a public records request for various documents about the alleged cop accountability and transparency, two words never associated with policies of the corrupt DA’s office, panel and received 15,000 pages of doc about use-of-force reports and whatnot from the SFPD.

    Also released to me were emails about who’s funding the panel. In keeping with his hatred of open govt, corrupt Gascon refused to digitize the 15,000 pages of records from SFPD to the panel, which would make it easy for me to post them online for all to read, and you want to these details.

    More info:
    http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2016/03/da-releases-15000-pages-of-sfpd-use-of.html

    http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com/2016/04/funders-amounts-of-das-sfpd-panel.html

  3. zoe

    There is a really lovely homeless man called A.K that we residents all look after in that area. He plays soccer with bottles in that exact area and is extremely paranoid but also wonderfully sweet and kind. Does anyone know if this is him? I’m traveling and so upset at this but praying it’s not our mate. We all look after him.

    • Laura Wenus Post author

      So far we have reports saying his name was either Jose or Luis and the Medical Examiner has not released a name yet, but we will update as soon as possible.

      • zoe

        Poor guy. He must have been absolutely terrified. These people need our help and compassion. New SF is a hard and cold place indeed. 🙁
        Thank you for the update.

  4. Hunter Cutting

    Mission Local, why do you lead your news story with a quote by the Chief of police? That is particularly poor journalism given that much later in the story witnesses dispute a key claim in the Chief’s quote (i.e. the claim that the murder victim was “brandishing a knife.” I have appreciate your excellent work on many occasions, but not here. I hope you can acknowlege it was a mistake. We can get this kind of reporting from the Chronicle.

  5. Alec White

    Mission Local, please do not begin your article with “San Francisco Police officers shot and critically injured a homeless man brandishing a knife…” when you then follow with “Witnesses told reporters, however, that the man did not brandish a knife.”

    That is bad journalism, biased journalism, and just an inaccurate way of framing a death from the beginning of an article. Please show more respect to the victims and please don’t outright quote the Chief of the Police when writing about someone getting shot to death.

  6. Marvin Carlisle

    Who is Suhr. They have no introduction in this piece.

  7. nd7

    Does anyone know if this is the same man who would sometimes sit on Mission near 22 with a big white tarp over his cart? He had a ponytail and would always be playing music.

    I haven’t seen him since this incident, which is why I ask.

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