Some 60 people marched through the Mission District Friday night and called for the state attorney general to take over the investigation into the two police officers who fatally shot Mission resident Amilcar Perez Lopez.
The rally marked the 18-month anniversary of the 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant’s death. Protesters said they are tired of awaiting results in an ongoing investigation into the police shooting by District Attorney George Gascon.
“It’s very clear to us that Mr. Gascon has a built-in conflict as do all DA’s in every jurisdiction, because they work with the police every day, they need a relationship of close trust,” said Bill Simpich, a civil rights attorney and neighbor of Perez Lopez. “A DA cannot do these charges, it should be an independent prosecutor.”
To that end, they said, they are asking State Attorney General Kamala Harris to take the case. They made the announcement at a conference held at Folsom Street between 24th and 25th streets – where Perez Lopez died.
“We are beginning the conversation with Harris because that is our next legal recourse,” said Father Richard Smith, vicar of the Episcopal Church of St. John in the Mission District. “This is a moment to do the right thing,” he said urging Harris to accept their request.
For the past five months, Smith has held weekly vigils outside of the Mission police station at 17th and Valencia streets to draw attention to Perez Lopez’s case and to pressure Gascon into prosecuting the officers.
But that hasn’t happened. Instead, Gascon told Smith during a July 25 meeting that he had not yet completed his report and was “waiting for some information to come in to him,” said Smith.
“Everything he could see at that point, it appeared to him that the case was not prosecutable and he would have to let the officers walk,” said Smith. “We are very frustrated.”
On Thursday, Gascon told media that he is “nearly ready” to announce the results of his investigation, and that some homicide investigations take years to complete.
But many community members are unwilling to wait that long.
“In the same year [Perez Lopez] was killed there were ten officer-involved shootings in the entire city, five of which occurred right here in the Mission,” said Smith, adding that Gascon has “charged not a single officer.”
Smith hopes that a prompt and fair criminal trial in Perez Lopez’s case will set a precedent in holding police accountable for murder.
Among Smith’s supporters was San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who called the evidence against the officers in Perez Lopez’ case “uncontroverted.”
“There could not be a clearer case where, at a minimum, manslaughter charges should be pursued,” said Adachi. “This case in many ways will be a test for this city and its resolve for reform.”
In February 2015, plainclothes officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli said that they responded to a bike theft involving Perez Lopez, who allegedly charged at them with a knife, causing the officers to open fire.
But an independent autopsy report revealed that Perez Lopez was shot six times from behind, and police testimonies are in conflict with statements given by two eye-witnesses who have said that Perez Lopez was robbed of his phone by a bicyclist and had dropped his knife before being shot.
“The officers have changed their story three times,” said Smith, adding that police tampered with evidence by ordering the removal of Perez Lopez’s body at the crime scene before it could be properly investigated by city officials.
Chanting “No Justice, No Peace,” the protesters marched toward 18th and Shotwell streets where Luis Gongora Pat, a Mexican immigrant, was shot and killed by police in April 2016 at the homeless encampment where he lived.
Onlookers joined the protesters who, accompanied by two motorcycle officers and a police car in tow, snaked along Folsom Street.
“The police killings make me very angry and I wish that they would stop,” said a San Francisco teacher who gave his name as “Chris,” and saw the protesters passing by a taqueria where he was having dinner. “I want to support them, so I stopped what I was doing and joined them.”
The police presence increased notably as protesters continued towards 17th and Valencia streets, where they formed a circle in front of the Mission District police station.
There, the parents of Alex Nieto, a 27-year-old security guard who was carrying a taser and allegedly pointed it at police officers who then fatally shot him on Bernal Hill in 2014, addressed the protesters.
“We have to to stop traffic, block the streets, create commotion on a Friday night – otherwise we will never see justice,” said the man’s father, Refugio Nieto. The four officers who shot Nieto were cleared by a jury in a civil trial in March.
“We’ve been in this struggle before,” said Benjamin Bac Sierra, a community activist and spokesperson for the Nietos. “We are not asking to convict the officers at this point – all we are asking for as taxpayers is a fair, public trial.”
And that can only happen, he said, if the public will “get it in their minds that cops can be criminals.”
Community members who came to support the protesters agreed.
“We are shocked that after all this time, there hasn’t been a trial,” said Castro resident Maline Walker, about Perez Lopez’ case. “We commend these people for protesting this injustice.”
And they plan to continue their activism until justice is served, said Smith, who called on the Mission community to remember Perez Lopez and others killed by police by joining him for their weekly vigil, now in its 21st week, next Wednesday.
“We are digging in our heels and we are not going away,” he said.