None of the officers involved in fatal confrontations with some 40 civilians shot and killed at the hands of San Francisco police since 2000 has stood a criminal trial.
On Monday, anti-police-brutality advocates, city leaders, and family members of police shooting victims gathered on the steps of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. to demand that the city’s District Attorney, George Gascon, bring criminal charges against two officers who shot and killed Mission resident Amilcar Perez Lopez in 2015.
The District Attorney’s office is tasked with deciding whether officers should be criminally charged for shootings.
“We have not, after two years, seen all the facts in this case or had a decision about whether or not the officers will be prosecuted in the killing of Amilcar Perez Lopez,” said Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “Two years to wait for a response in a tragic case that has broken all of our hearts is not justice.”
February 26 marked the two-year anniversary of the night that Perez Lopez, a 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant, was killed. Two plainclothes officers, Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe, had confronted him on the Folsom Street block where he lived, between 24th and 25th streets.
On Sunday night, some 50 people gathered at the site for a vigil honoring the young man’s life, despite heavy rain.
Florencia Rojo, an activist with the Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez Coalition, read from a statement made by the Perez Lopez’ father.
“With the money he sent us we managed to get a corn sheller, electricity, potable water – but he will never see these things,” read Rojo. “[My son] was earning a living and they took his life.”
Candles illuminated posters carrying images of the young man, including a photograph of his family in Guatemala.
“I hope we can keep them at the front of our hearts and minds tonight,” said Father Richard Smith, vicar at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 15th and Julian Streets, who has spearheaded the Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez movement.
Tomorrow, Smith said, the group would demand justice from the city, but “tonight we are doing the ‘heart work.’ This is about healing for our community – we all need this.”
Two years after Perez Lopez’ shooting, Gascón continues to stall on a decision about filing charges. In response, activists have held weekly vigils in front of Mission Police station to demand a decision for the past ten months.
“There needs to be a new sense of justice in this community,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi to the group of protesters on Monday.
Since Perez Lopez’ death, the police department has received a new chief and faced a string of reform initiatives.
Still, “unless you have accountability, unless you have people being brought to justice, no matter if you are a perpetrator of crime on the street or whether you’re a police officer,” said Adachi, “we will never ever see true change and justice.”
Max Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office, said that a charging decision by the district attorney is “forthcoming,” though he did not give specifics.
“I would categorize the timeline in weeks, not months,” said Szabo. He cited the refusal of eyewitnesses to come forward until a year after the shooting and a six-month wait on Perez Lopez’ autopsy report by the Medical Examiner as reasons for the delay.
In September, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee approved funding for an Independent Investigation Bureau within the District Attorney’s office, which will be tasked with investigating officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths. The bureau is being developed in order to avoid having the police department investigate its own officers.
Still, the creation of the bureau is currently stalled by negotiations between the district attorney’s office and the police department. It has been five months since funding was approved for the bureau, and it’s unclear when it will begin work.
“That’s not something we can control,” said Szabo. “We are ready to go and want to make sure in future that cases are investigated in new process in a way that ensures objectivity.”
Immediately after Perez Lopez’ death, former Police Chief Greg Suhr told community members that officers Reboli and Tiffe had acted in self-defense after Perez Lopez lunged at them with a knife.
But two independent autopsy reports and the testimonies of eyewitnesses contradicted these claims. Perez Lopez, the reports revealed, was shot in the back.
On Monday afternoon, protesters reenacted the night of Perez Lopez’ shooting in front of the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant Street.
“Someone had just stolen Amilcar’s cellphone and he took off on a bike – Amilcar chased him him up the street,” narrated activist Jackie Barshak.
Upon retrieving his cell phone, Barshak told onlookers, Perez Lopez “started walking home, when he sees a car pull up.”
Sirens from a recording activists had queued up blared through loudspeakers at the protest.
As the sirens faded away, about a dozen activists sprawled out across the concrete stairs in front of 850 Bryant St. There, they laid motionless as several police officers and members of the media looked on – the action was meant to symbolize the lives taken by the police force.
“We are not naive, we know we are David going against Goliath,” said Smith in reference to the activism. “But we still care and we are not going away – we want our day in court.”