Activists and a lawyer representing police shooting victim Luis Góngora Pat joined his wife and children at a press conference in Mexico Thursday morning to emphasize the trans-national significance of the shooting.
Officers responding to a call about a man swinging a knife arrived on Shotwell Street near 19th Street on April 7 of this year and confronted Góngora Pat, a homeless man who spoke Maya and some Spanish but little English. Within 30 seconds of exiting their car, Officers Nate Steger and Michael Mellone had fired several beanbag rounds and seven bullets at Góngora Pat, partial video of the incident shows. Six of the bullets struck and fatally injured him.
Both officers remain on duty, and Góngora Pat’s family has filed a civil suit against the city of San Francisco and the two officers alleging the man’s human rights were violated. The officers fired after Góngora Pat lunged at them with the knife, then-police-chief Greg Suhr said after the shooting.
Adriana Camarena, an organizer and lawyer who has supported the causes of several families of police shooting victims, joined Adante Pointer, the San Francisco attorney representing Góngora Pat’s family, and several other activists in traveling to Mérida, the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán. There, they addressed reporters and members of the public alongside Góngora Pat’s widow, Fidelia del Carmen, and his children, cousins, and niece.
“I have traveled down here to show the family that there is hope for making this right,” Pointer said.
From a room in the Asociación Maya on 16th and Mission streets in San Francisco, Góngora Pat’s other supporters, including his brother and two cousins, watched via videoconference.
Pointer presented the case as an international tragedy, adding that Góngora Pat was an undocumented immigrant laborer who nonetheless should have had the protection of human rights.
“If the city and county of San Francisco could take his labor, then the least they could do is to respect his human rights,” he said.
He also presented evidence from an autopsy showing that Góngora Pat had injuries on his right side, indicating, the lawyer said, that he never faced or lunged at the officers, and that the bullets entered from above. This demonstrates, he argued, that the victim was likely seated or had fallen to the ground by the time he was shot.
Witnesses who spoke to reporters after the shooting said Góngora Pat had been sitting when the officers arrived, though a police statement given after the incident says Góngora Pat lunged at the officers with the knife when they arrived. In a partial video of the incident that does not show Góngora Pat, officers can be heard shouting at him to “put it down.”
What they should have done, Pointer argued, is implement crisis intervention training and create time, distance and a rapport with the suspect. That’s not what happened in Góngora Pat’s case, David Elliott Lewis, a crisis intervention trainer for the police, told Mission Local in May. Instead the confrontation lasted only 22 seconds. Lewis told Mission Local in May that the handling of Góngora was “a total disaster.”
Reporters in Mexico wanted to know whether the officers are still on duty, whether there had been similar cases in San Francisco, whether Pointer saw the incident as a case of racial bias, and whether the officers were white.
“They’re not black and they’re not Latino,” he said, and added that “bias plays into” police behavior in San Francisco, though he stopped short of characterizing the officers as racist.
A year-long inquiry into the police department found significant disparities in how racial minorities are treated by the SFPD.
The case is likely to take a year or two to advance to a trial, Pointer said, at which point he hopes to effect systemic policy change within the department as well as win damages for the family.
Góngora Pat’s widow, Fidelia del Carmen, as well as his sister-in-law Isabel and three adult children, tearfully asked for justice for her slain husband. Activists then presented the family with a quilt made by San Francisco-based supporters.
“This is not a San Francisco story, this is an international story,” Pointer said.