taser demonstration // Sheriff's Department
Pie de foto: en mayo se rechazó un sondeo del FBI solicitado por Sheriff Vicki Hennessy para determinar si la presunta golpiza de un reo que sucedió en abril de 2019 amerita una investigación penal. La presunta víctima ha presentado una demanda. Foto de Sam Goldman. An FBI probe requested by Sheriff Vicki Hennessy to determine if an alleged beating of an inmate in April 2019 merits a criminal investigation was declined in May. The alleged victim has now filed suit. Photo by Sam Goldman

Chief Bill Scott can sleep well.

In a contentious Wednesday-night meeting, the San Francisco Police Commission voted 3-3 not to rescind its previous vote to arm San Francisco Police officers with Tasers. Opponents, and some commissioners, felt that a November 2017 decision on Tasers wasn’t legitimate.

Like the Feb. 6 meeting in which three commissioners walked out of City Hall, the proceedings devolved into bickering and exposed the fierce partisanship that divides mayoral appointees from those appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Their votes were divided along those very lines.

At issue was a June 2018 ruling by the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, which found that the Police Commission violated city meeting rules during its original Taser vote Nov. 3, 2017. That vote occurred following an emotional six-hour meeting that was paused and subsequently reconvened in another room at City Hall because of raucous crowd behavior.

Taser opponents alleged that they did not receive equal opportunity to speak, as they were not notified that the meeting room had changed. Some, additionally, were locked out of City Hall when the public meeting reconvened.

In a unanimous decision, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force found that these actions placed the Police Commission in violation of the city’s Sunshine Ordinance, raising questions over whether the original 4-3 vote to approve the police department’s use of Tasers was legitimate.

“I’m not sure how we sit here and accept the finding that they [the previous commission] violated the Sunshine Ordinance but yet the vote still stands,” said Commissioner Cindy Elias, a board appointee.

Commissioner Petra DeJesus, who voted against Tasers in 2017, introduced a motion to both recognize the task force’s ruling and rescind the 2017 vote. This came despite initial resistance from Commission President Bob Hirsch, a mayoral appointee who cast the deciding vote in favor of the stun guns.

Hirsch vehemently rejected the findings of the Task Force, arguing that it was the Sheriff’s Deputies doing security — and not the Police Commission — who were responsible for locking some community members out of the meeting. He further argued that the public was properly notified of the room change.

“The Sunshine Task Force was incorrect,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chief Scott remained silent, sometimes shooting glances to his command staff in the audience.

In the end, the motion by DeJesus failed; the commissioners were deadlocked, 3-3. Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco — a mayoral appointee who in 2017 voted in favor of the stun guns — was not present.

Wednesday night’s vote was a blow to the handful of activists who turned out and who believed the Task Force’s ruling was a means to keep Tasers out of officers’ hands. That is especially true for activist Magick Altman, who originally filed the grievance with the Task Force in February 2018.

“This is heartbreaking to me,” Altman said following the motion’s failure.

At moments, the commissioners’ discussion on the merits of the Sunshine ruling — as well as the possibility of rescinding the vote — reverted to the decadeslong debate of whether the SFPD should be armed with Tasers at all.

Commissioner DeJesus revived the argument made by many Taser opponents that the stun guns can be hazardous, especially when used on individuals suffering from mental health issues. San Mateo County saw four Taser-related deaths at the hands of law enforcement in 2018 alone, she said.

Nevertheless, per the November 2017 decision, the SFPD will not be allowed to use Tasers until December of this year — two years after the SFPD’s use-of-force policy was revised.

But it’s unclear whether they’ll get the weapons at that time. In June 2018, the Board of Supervisors blocked the $3 million the department needed to buy the stun guns.

In the meantime, the San Francisco Police Department also hasn’t had an officer-involved shooting since June.

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Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

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