The San Francisco Police Department has found that the officers who fatally shot Mario Woods all used their firearms in a manner adhering to departmental policy, putting to rest a nearly three-year investigation into the incident that rocked San Francisco and, in part, prompted a federal review of the embattled department.
The department also found that two other fatal police shootings of civilians — both of which took place in 2015 — were acceptable, under SFPD policy. As was a fourth incident in which officers shot at, but did not strike, a driver on Treasure Island.
A fifth incident, in which an SFPD officer committed suicide with his gun in Richmond, was found to contravene departmental policy.
The SFPD’s findings on Woods’ shooting, presented at the Police Commission Wednesday evening, were no surprise. The department has never, in its history, found the fatal shooting of a civilian by an officer unacceptable under departmental policy.
Furthermore, District Attorney George Gascón in May announced that his office would not file charges against the five officers who shot Woods 21 times on Dec. 2, 2015, in Bayview.
Last night’s presentation was the first the time the SFPD publicly announced the conclusions of its investigations into these five instances, in which officers used their firearms. However, the department sent its determination of the Woods case to the commission in a June 28 letter.
The determinations were made by the SFPD’s “Firearm Discharge Review Board,” which examines evidence gathered by the department’s internal investigations unit. The reports also included the findings of separate investigations by the District Attorney’s Office, the Medical Examiner, the Department of Police Accountability and the SFPD’s homicide unit in the event of a death.
The presentation served as a rare opportunity for commissioners to press the department in an open forum about the Woods shooting — perhaps the most controversial, and high-profile, San Francisco has seen in recent years.
“This was an incident — regardless of whether it was in policy or not in policy, criminal or not criminal — it didn’t help the department and didn’t help the city,” Commissioner John Hamasaki told Sgt. John Crudo, who presented the department’s findings.
Hamasaki proceeded to press Crudo on whether the policy changes the SFPD made in response to the Woods shooting would change how the department investigates police shootings and makes its conclusions. He asked whether, under new policies that strongly emphasize de-escalation, “if the [Woods shooting] happened today, would this be in policy?”
“I don’t like thinking hypothetical,” Crudo said, after a long pause.
“It’s not a hypothetical,” Hamasaki quickly shot back. “It’s a policy and a set of actions.”
“I don’t know,” Crudo said after another long pause, and under the gaze of Chief Bill Scott and other members of the command staff.
Hamasaki also asked whether the department’s investigation took into account whether the officers who shot Woods properly utilized their Crisis Intervention Training. All of the officers were CIT trained. “You’re satisfied that all CIT tactics were utilized in this case?” Hamasaki asked Crudo.
Scott jumped in before Crudo could answer. “All that is evaluated,” Scott said. “In terms of … how much how much they used — or did they use enough — that is not a factor, at least in the decision of the Firearm Discharge Review Board.”
“There is no measurement of how much is enough in terms of de-escalation or less-lethal [force],” he added, stating that the most important factor to consider is whether the officers’ use of deadly force is “reasonable.”
“Was there any follow-up training … for these particular officers?” asked Commissioner Petra DeJesus, noting that, often, an officer will receive additional training following a serious use-of-force incident.
Crudo said the officers have some “initial training” immediately following the incident. “But they haven’t had the benefit of the new training,” he said.
The commissioners also probed the department on why the SFPD has taken so long to conclude an investigation. “Why are they taking three years to come before the board?” asked Commissioner Cindy Elias.
Traditionally, Crudo said, the department waited until the District Attorney’s office completed its criminal investigation to announce its findings — but that the SFPD has moved away from the policy that was largely responsible for a backlog of investigations into fatal police shootings.
Now, per a directive by Chief Scott, the department will not wait for the DA to release his findings. As a result, Scott said, “I think we are in a much better place.”
Right now, 14 of the 43 firearm review board investigations into police shootings since 2013, including that of the fatal shooting of Luis Gongora Pat in the Mission District in 2016, have not yet been completed.
Responding to questions about whether he was satisfied with the SFPD’s answers to his questions, Hamasaki said via email: “[Woods’s] death may be completely in policy and by the book, and we can still watch that video and know that young man didn’t have to die that day. So the question becomes, ‘how do we ensure that something like this never, ever happens again in our City?’”