Luis Gongora Pat, 45, homeless.
Date and Time: April 7, 2016, 10 a.m.
Time Elapsed Between Officers on the Scene and Shooting: Less than 30 seconds.
Place: Homeless encampment on Shotwell Street near 19th Street.
Officers: Officer Mike Mellone and Sergeant Nate Steger
Current Legal Proceedings: Gongora Pat’s family filed suit October 2016 against the city and the officers involved, charging that the shooting was a violation of Gongora Pat’s civil rights.
Legal Team: Adante Pointer, Law Offices of John Burris, Oakland.
Trial Date: Pre-trial begins October 22, 2018.
Overview: Mellone and Steger approached Gongora Pat at a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street near 19th Street shortly after 10 a.m. on a Friday morning, responding to a call about a man with a knife. A video obtained by SFGate shows they shouted at Gongora Pat to “put it down,” fired non-lethal bean bag rounds and then seven bullets within 30 seconds of exiting their car at the scene. Gongora Pat had been hit six times, according to an autopsy. Gongora Pat was transported to the hospital in critical condition and succumbed to his injuries later that day.
More Details: Police said they were responding to a call, which some sources reported came from members of a Homeless Outreach Team, about someone waving a large knife. When they arrived, police say, Gongora Pat was armed with a large knife and threatening them and others around them. Gongora Pat briefly put the knife down, but quickly picked it up again and ran at police with the knife. As he ran toward them, police say, the officers fired. Three witnesses told police that Gongora Pat was holding a knife. One of these witnesses told police the victim lunged at the officers but did not mention a knife.
Witnesses told reporters, however, that Gongora Pat likely had a knife at the time of the confrontation but was seated on the ground when the officers arrived. The knife may have been tucked in his belt or on the ground – witness accounts differ. Eight witnesses told reporters that Gongora Pat did not threaten the officers.
Activists who have advocated for Gongora Pat’s family say the victim could not have risen to threaten the officers because the trajectory of the bullets that struck him was downward, including that of the fatal bullet wound to his head. The autopsy also indicates that both bullet and beanbag projectile wounds Gongora suffered were on his back, indicating he was not facing officers when he was shot.
Activists also note that Gongora Pat, a Mayan immigrant from Mexico, spoke Maya, some Spanish, and very little English and was unlikely to have understood officers’ shouted command, let alone have been able to respond to them in the brief time that elapsed.
Investigations: A police investigation is still open. The District Attorney has not made a decision about whether or not to criminally charge the officers involved.
Amilcar Perez Lopez, 21, construction and restaurant worker.
Date and Time: February 26, 2015, 9:47 p.m.
Time Elapsed Between Officers on the Scene and Shooting: One minute 33 seconds between officers’ arrival on scene and a witness reporting shots fired to dispatcher.
Place: Folsom Street near 24th Street.
Officers: Officers Craig Tiffe and Eric Reboli.
Current Legal Proceedings: A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against the city and the officers involved.
Legal Team: Arnoldo Casillas
Overview: Plainclothes police officers Tiffe and Reboli responded to reports of a man with a knife on Folsom Street near 24th Street and found Perez Lopez and a man on a bicycle, Abraham Perez (no relation). At the end of the confrontation, Perez Lopez was shot six times, and the cyclist, Perez, was briefly handcuffed and then released.
More Details: Originally, then-chief Greg Suhr told the public at a town hall that as the officers approached two men, one assaulted the officer with a large kitchen knife. This narrative was the center of activist blowback when a private autopsy revealed, and a city autopsy confirmed, that Perez Lopez was shot in the back – all six times he was hit. A year after the incident, Suhr told KQED that Perez Lopez was actually in the process of assaulting the cyclist, not an officer, when he was shot. This, he said, explained the entry direction of the bullets.
Perez Lopez also did not speak much English and may have been confused about what the officers were telling him or, indeed, who they were, since they were not uniformed (though they wore badges around their necks).
Two witnesses, who were initially afraid to come forward with their version of events out of fear of retaliation because they are undocumented immigrants, said Perez Lopez dropped the knife before he was shot. They later testified to investigators.
One nearby resident who heard but did not see the confrontation said officers fired almost immediately after shouting commands at Perez Lopez.
Activists also accuse police of not following protocol regarding Perez Lopez’ corpse – officers instructed Medical Examiner staff to move the body before staff from the District Attorney’s office arrived to do their own standard investigation, preventing the District Attorney’s office from precisely reconstructing the scene to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
According to the District Attorney’s office, premature movement of a body is not unique to Perez Lopez’ case. The District Attorney has yet to issue a formal decision on whether officers acted in accordance with the law.
Advocates have also reached out to State General Attorney Kamala Harris’ office for an analysis of the case. As of early 2017, following Harris’ election as the junior Senator from California, no action has materialized out of the activists’ contacts with the Attorney General’s office, now headed by Xavier Becerra.
Investigations: A police investigation is still open. The District Attorney has not made a decision about whether or not to criminally charge the officers involved. Update: On April 12, 2017, more than two years after the shooting, District Attorney George Gascón’s announced his decision, to file no charges against the two plainclothes police officers, Eric Reboli and Craig Tiffe. Gascón wrote that the evidence is insufficient to bring charges.
Javier Lopez Garcia, 25, occupation unknown
Date and Time: November 11, 2015, 4:15 p.m.
Time Elapsed Between Officers on the Scene and Shooting: Unavailable
Place: St. Luke’s Hospital construction site at Cesar Chavez and Valencia Streets.
Officers: Andres Garza, Jeff Aloise, Jeff Camilosa
Overview: Garcia entered the construction site on a Wednesday afternoon, reportedly pointed a long gun at construction workers and climbed the stairs of the construction site to the sixth floor. Police responded and shot three times at Garcia, killing him.
Current Legal Proceedings: None
Police Say: Then-chief Greg Suhr told reporters at the scene that officers responding to the scene could hear shots being fired as they arrived. They saw Garcia standing on a construction elevator on the outside of the building, pointing his weapon at the old hospital. When he saw the officers, he pointed his weapon at them, at which point they fired and he slumped over.
It’s unclear whether Garcia actually fired any shots. Suhr said officers did not recover any shells from the scene but did find a box of ammunition with two of five rounds missing.
Later, officers discovered that Garcia was likely the suspect of a robbery at a Big 5 sporting goods store in San Bruno. He used a replica handgun to rob the store and obtain a real gun, according to police.
A foreman at the construction site told Mission Local that Garcia had shouted about being suicidal; Police showed a note Garcia allegedly handed to a clerk at the Big 5 during the earlier robbery which also made references to wanting to end his life.
Activists say: No prominent long-term organizing effort has developed around Garcia’s death.
Further reporting from the San Jose Mercury News, however, revealed additional information about Garcia’s circumstances, including a 2008 conviction for carjacking. He wrote a letter to a judge while in jail, expressing his desire to get his life back on track and take care of his mother and siblings. SFGate reports that he was later charged with the misdemeanor of driving with a suspended license in Palo Alto.
Investigations: A police investigation is still open.
Matthew Hoffman, 32, occupation unknown
Date and Time: January 4, 2015, 5:21 p.m.
Time Elapsed During Confrontation: Unavailable
Place: SFPD Mission Station Parking Lot
Police Officers: Sgt. Michael Serujo and Sgt. Nicolas Pena
Current Legal Proceedings: None
Overview: Hoffman walked into the SFPD Mission Station parking lot at 17th and Valencia Streets, a restricted area, on a Sunday evening. Police officers confronted him and told him to leave, and Hoffman refused. He instead made motions toward drawing a handgun that later turned out to be a toy gun. Two sergeants fired at him five times each, hitting him three times. He died at the hospital later that day.
Police also found, and secured permission from Hoffman’s father to reveal, a suicide note on Hoffman’s phone indicating that he intended to provoke officers into fatally shooting him.
The incident is widely considered a “suicide by cop.”
Investigations: A police investigation into the incident is still open.
More details: Officers attempted to physically restrain Hoffman, then pepper sprayed him, according to a police-issued list of officer-involved shootings. In a town hall immediately following the shooting, however, then-chief Suhr made no mention of efforts to subdue Hoffman. Instead, Suhr said the sergeants – still in their patrol car – told him to leave. They then got out of the car and again told Hoffman to leave. After backing up toward Valencia a little, Hoffman lifted up his shirt to reveal the butt of what appeared to be a gun in his waistband (police only later discovered it was a replica). He pulled it out of his waistband and pointed it at the officers, at which point the officers fired, Suhr said.
Suhr also said that officers in Connecticut, where Hoffman lived before moving to San Francisco, had contacted San Francisco police after the incident to tell them about text messages someone with his same name had sent to officers in Connecticut asking about what would happen if someone were to point a gun at an officer. The Chronicle reports that at the time, police there issued a bulletin noting that Hoffman had a permit to carry a gun and owned a pistol. Suhr said Hoffman had been making similar inquiries of officers on patrol in the Mission prior to the confrontation that ended his life.
Alex Nieto, 28, security guard
Date and Time: March 21, 2014, 7:11 p.m.
Time Elapsed Between Officers on the Scene and Shooting: 24 seconds
Place: Bernal Heights Park
Police Officers: Nathan Chew, Richard Schiff, Roger Morse, and Sergeant Jason Stewart
Overview: Responding to a call about someone with a weapon, the officers confronted Alex Nieto, who reportedly drew the Taser he carried for his work as a security guard. The officers, said then-Chief Greg Suhr shortly after the incident, fired in defense of their lives. They collectively fired between 48 and 59 shots, at least ten of which hit Nieto, killing him.
Legal Proceedings: A jury ruled March 10, 2016 in a civil case brought by the Nieto family against the city and the officers that they had not used excessive force in the case, and no damages were awarded.
Legal Team: Adante Pointer of the Law Offices of John Burris, Oakland
Officers testified in the civil trial that Nieto was coming around a bend on a path on the outskirts of the park when the officers pulled up. When Nieto rounded the bend, they shouted for him to show his hands. He allegedly responded that they should show their hands instead, then drew a weapon from a hip holster and brought his hands up in front of his chest, at which point the officers fired.
Whether or not Nieto actually fired his weapon was at the center of debate during the civil trial. Internal data from the Taser had to be corrected a few minutes for “clock drift” to match the time of the incident, and no evidence of a firing (a metal barb, and paper markers that are ejected upon discharge) was collected from the scene.
Nieto, the officers testified, did not react to the first few shots. He then fell to the ground, prone, but continuing to grasp his stun gun, making him a continued threat, they testified. Only when his body went limp and his head dropped to the ground did the officers cease to consider him a threat and stop firing. Nieto was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:30 p.m.
Though a discussion of Nieto’s mental health history was barred from the trial, a Medical Examiner’s report indicated that Nieto may had a history of “psychosis” and erratic behavior, but was not taking his prescribed medications. Nevertheless, he was employed as a security guard, studying criminal justice, and had interned at the city’s probation department.
An incident referenced in the Medical Examiner’s report, in which Nieto was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold for allegedly attempting to light the family house on fire, resurfaced after the trial was complete. One of the officers involved, Roger Morse, made a reference to that incident in a publicly visible Facebook comment that some activists interpreted to be either a slight to Nieto’s character or a threat.
Other details leading up to the shooting are also possibly relevant but murky. Two men who encountered Nieto in the park before his encounter with police described him in court testimony as acting erratically. One testified that he called police after witnessing Neito shadow boxing and practicing drawing his Taser. Another testified that his dog had approached Nieto in the park while Nieto was eating a burrito, and Nieto had pulled his Taser out and aimed it at the dog. The same witness testified that while he did not necessarily assume Nieto to be a gang member, he noted that Nieto was “dressed like a gang member” because of his red 49ers jacket, another point of controversy.
Investigations: No ongoing investigations. In December 2016 the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to build a memorial to Nieto at the site of the police shooting.