Shooting homeless immigrant Luis Gongora Pat was deemed within policy, even if escalating encounter into lethal confrontation was not
The San Francisco Police officers who shot dead homeless immigrant Luis Gongora Pat in April 2016 may receive — at most — weeks of discipline for escalating the situation that ultimately led to Gongora Pat’s death.
In a report last week made public by the Police Commission, SFPD leadership found that Officer Michael Mellone acted “out of policy” by firing a beanbag shotgun at Gongora Pat seconds before he and another officer, Sgt. Nate Steger, shot and killed Gongora Pat on Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th. The shooting took place 30 seconds after the officers engaged with Gongora Pat.
The SFPD found, however, that subsequently shooting Gongora Pat dead was within policy.
The finding buttresses the conclusion reached in June in a separate investigation by the Department of Police Accountability, an SFPD oversight group. That group found that Mallone neglected his duty in firing the less-than-lethal shotgun. The DPA report explicitly stated that the use of the less-lethal shotgun enflamed the situation and led to Mallone and Steger shooting and killing Gongora Pat.
“As a result of his actions, Officer Mallone unilaterally and immediately escalated to greater force in this situation, which involved a situation involving a mental health crisis,” the DPA report says. “His escalated force appears to have agitated the individual, forcing Officer Mallone and [Steger] to use lethal force that resulted in death.”
The officers arrived at a homeless encampment on Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th streets, responding to a call of a man wielding a knife, but, purportedly, at nobody in particular. Mallone immediately pointed the beanbag gun at Gongora, who was sitting on the ground, “just staring off into the distance,” according to Steger’s testimony to investigators.
But Gongora Pat allegedly picked up the knife again, at which point Mallone fired the beanbag gun four times. Gongora then sat up and “ran” toward Steger. Steger shot Gongora “several times” in the torso and then in the head, as Mallone replaced and retrieved his firearm and shot at Gongora four times.
Witness accounts disputed the officer’s claims that Gongora Pat threatened them with the knife.
The shooting sparked protests and followed several controversial police shootings, including those of Mario Woods, Alex Nieto, and Amilcar Perez-Lopez.
Partial footage of the incident:
The DPA recommended that Mallone receive 45 days’ suspension for failing to create “time and distance” in order to assess whether the use of the beanbag gun was necessary. The watchdog group recommended Steger receive a 30-day suspension for “failing to supervise.”
The SFPD Internal Affairs Division report, however, calls for no punishment at all — only retraining on de-escalation tactics. Internal Affairs recommended Mallone retrain with the beanbag gun.
Any discipline for Mallone, however, would be symbolic, as he is no longer with the department. Steger currently works with the department’s “Special Operations Division,” which involves contact with the public, wrote SFPD spokesman David Stevenson in an email.
It’s unclear whether the officers’ cases have been adjudicated by the Police Commission — or whether Chief Bill Scott himself recommended discipline based on the findings. “We are unable to comment on disciplinary matters,” Stevenson wrote.
Both the SFPD and the Department of Police Accountability agreed that, after escalating the situation into a lethal confrontation, the officers did not break department policy in using their guns to kill Gongora Pat. District Attorney George Gascon in May 2018 declined to file criminal charges, stating that it could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt the officers did not act reasonably to protect their lives.
Gongora Pat’s family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the city for $140,000.
The SFPD has not committed an officer-involved shooting since shooting Oliver Barcenas in North Beach in June 2018.