Activists want a town hall with D.A. Gascón after police shooting report

Father Richard Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Activists from several coalitions seeking justice in high-profile police shootings united their movements on the steps of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice on Friday to denounce what they say was a biased investigation into the death of Amilcar Perez Lopez.

“The report reflects the DA’s clear bias towards protecting the officers that killed Amilcar rather than seeking the truth of what happened,” said Father Richard Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church, an organizer leading the Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez Coalition.

“He clearly defers to the police version of the events, a version very different from what community members heard and saw.“

The group demanded that District Attorney George Gascón face them and the community in a town hall meeting to be held in the Mission District, and that he provide them with a full report of the investigation that has been over two years in the making.

A summary report of the investigation that was published this Wednesday, the activists said, “raises more questions than it answers” and “contains a number of inconsistencies.”

On the heels of  the report’s release,Gascón announced his decision to not charge officers Eric Reboli and Craig TIffe in the deadly February 2015 shooting of the 21-year-old Guatemalan immigrant.

“We do not accept the report’s conclusions,” said Smith, who for the two years has led the movement to pressure Gascón – who has never filed charges against officers in police shootings – to hold Reboli and Tiffe accountable in a court of law.

“The DA clearly has some explaining to do,” said Smith. “We want him and his lead investigators to meet with us at a mutually convenient time for a townhall meeting in the Mission.”

At Friday’s press conference, Smith said that he has not received a response from Gascón.

Max Szabo, the spokesperson for the District Attorney’s office, said that Smith declined Gascón’s invitation for a personal briefing. Szabo did not comment on the possibility of a townhall meeting in which Gascón would be subjected to questions from the community.

Szabo wrote in an email that protocol forbids public access to the full investigative files in any case, not just officer-involved shootings, as they include “identifying information of undocumented immigrants and witnesses.”

“Effectively, releasing the files could chill future participation from victims and witnesses,” wrote Szabo. “ There are also investigative techniques that could be disclosed.”

Still, Szabo said that the information provided in the summary report is a “thorough summary of the investigation,” and that it is the “most in-depth and lengthy report of any [officer-involved shooting] investigation provided to date.”

The full investigation, he said, will be forwarded to the State Attorney General’s Office.

Activists gathered at 850 Bryant St. on Friday disagreed. Many said that Gascón’s decision to to exonerate the officers further exacerbates the trauma and fear that the death has instilled in the community.

“With each instance that justice is denied, the heart of the city will grow stronger,” said Reverend Wanika Stephens, of the St. John Coltrane Church. Every Friday for  the past 25 weeks, she has met with the mothers of the victims of police violence at 850 Bryant St. to hold space and demand justice.

Ben Rosenfeld, an attorney based in the Mission District who has analyzed the summary report, pinpointed several inconsistencies.

“This report doesn’t pass the sniff test,” said Rosenfeld, adding that it omits the chronology of events leading up to the shooting and showcases instances in which the officers did not follow protocol.

The report, said Rosenfeld, fails to provide contradictory evidence that Reboli and Tiffe, who responded to a dispatch call about a knife chase involving Perez Lopez and another man, properly identified themselves as police officers.

“This is hugely important – we have the officers’ insistence that they did so, but no independent witness who the summary report lists, corroborated that account,” he said.

The report states that Reboli detained the man that Perez Lopez, who was armed with a knife, was allegedly chasing on the evening of Feb. 26, 2015, while Tiffe grabbed Perez Lopez. The report goes on to say that Perez Lopez managed to free himself and then lunged at Tiffe with the knife, prompting both officers to shoot.

But before the bullets made contact with Perez  Lopez, investigators concluded that he quickly turned around. Two independent autopsy reports revealed that Perez Lopez was shot six times from behind.

“They claim in this feat of utter mental gymnastics that [Perez Lopez] somehow managed to spin around while a bullet was travelling through the air,” said Rosenfeld. The attorney also pointed out that if taken at face value, the report reveals misconduct by both Reboli and Tiffe.

“They took no effort to de-escalate the incident according … or wait for backup – instead, they physically engaged a man who they had every reason to believe may have been armed with a knife,” he said. “This is fundamentally contrary to most basic police training and practices … and a recipe for disaster.”

Deputy Public Defender Rebecca Young called the investigation “illegitimate” and criticized a new unit formed by the Gascón to investigate police shootings and misconduct, for which Gascón received $1.7 million in funding.

“You know who he has hired to be on the [Independent Investigation Bureau]? Police officers,” said Young. “It is the fox guarding the hen house.”

Drivers passing the Hall of Justice honked and raised their fists in a show of support as the activists called for police reform and scrutiny of ongoing police shooting investigations.

Members of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition and the Justice for Luis Gongora Pat Coalition said they will continue to press for police accountability and charges in the police killings of both men.

“We are up next,” said Darrell Rogers, a member of the Justice for Mario Woods Coalition. The group is seeking charges against the officers involved in the contentious 2015 Bayview shooting that was caught on video. “What are you going to tell us? We got it live and in living color.”

Reverend Wanika Stephens, of the St. John Coltrane Church. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Maria Cristina Gutierrez of the Frisco Five. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Pictures of the victims from police shootings lined up against the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant. Photo by Lola M. Chavez

Photo by Lola M. Chavez

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