3,295 pages of records reveal disorganization and lack of coherent command structure in March 2018 standoff with police that left armed 19-year-old dead
Sprawled out the trunk of his friend’s black Honda Civic on Capp Street between 21st and 22nd, Jesus Adolfo Delgado Duarte was making the decision of his life.
It was March 2018, and a semi-circle of 10 San Francisco police officers had formed with their guns drawn. Delgado had a gun of his own. He held the lid of the trunk with his right hand while fidgeting with the silver handgun gun with his left. Abre la cajuela, said a policewoman through a patrol car PA system, slowly, almost pleadingly asking him to open the trunk and show his hidden left hand. Señor, si tú no enseñas tus manos, te vamos echar balazos: If you don’t show your hands, we will shoot.
Delgado had a decision to make. He could get out of the trunk and face time in prison — and possibly be deported to Mexico, where he had been born 19 years earlier. Or he could raise his gun and die.
He looked toward Officer Milen Banegas, who was giving him commands in Spanish less than 10 feet away. “You could see all these emotions that he was experiencing,” she would tell homicide detectives days later. “At one point, it looked like he was crying.”
Delgado made the sign of the cross, she recalled. It was “as if he’s having this psychotic episode … it’s like, he was trying to decide what to do.”
All of a sudden, that decision would become easier. An officer standing behind Banegas and to her left shot Delgado with a beanbag round, hitting him in the right forearm. Many of the 10 officers who shot Delgado would tell detectives that Delgado winced, flinched, or was unresponsive. But Banegas, who was among the closest, recalled something more: Delgado’s facial expression turned to “rage.”
Seconds later, Delgado suddenly extended his left hand, which held a Millenium Taurus 9mm handgun, and shot once at the phalanx of officers. One shot would be all he’d get; they fired back 99 times. Twenty-five bullets hit Delgado. He was killed on the spot.
The barrage of gunfire was heard throughout the neighborhood. Delgado became the Mission District’s first and only officer-involved shooting of 2018. Protests ensued. A town hall meeting at Cesar Chavez Elementary a week later would feature Banegas’s body-worn camera footage along with that of other officers. The footage showed Delgado, who was suspected of robbing a man at gunpoint minutes before the incident, clearly firing at officers first.
But more than 3,200 pages detailing an ongoing investigation of the case — including statements from more than a dozen officers present for the shooting — reveal a more complicated story: a precarious crisis situation that testimony illustrates was likely escalated by how the SFPD handled it.
Instead of buying time and keeping its distance, which is the department’s policy, officers formed a semi-circle only around 15 feet from the trunk where Delgado was holed up. This contravened the SFPD’s use-of-force policy to “utilize cover to avoid creating an immediate threat that may require the use of force.”
Interview transcripts with all of the officers on the scene indicate that, instead of creating time and distance between themselves and Delgado, the SFPD’s response was disorganized and without a commanding officer in charge. That meant individual officers independently made singular decisions that either enflamed or stabilized the tense scene.
At the moment Delgado was holed up in the trunk, two years and four months had passed since five officers fatally shot Mario Woods in December 2015, striking him some 21 times, in an interaction that lasted just over a minute. That situation was also marked by disorganization and impatience. A year later, the department changed the way it dealt with use of force, encouraging officers to de-escalate tense situations with people who may be in crisis.
That did not happen with Delgado.
In six minutes, the standoff was brought to an abrupt conclusion by the decision of one officer, Bryan Santana, to deploy what the SFPD calls an “extended-range impact weapon,” or less-lethal shotgun that fires beanbag rounds. Santana told investigators that discussing his tactical decision with officers on the scene would have been “counter-productive.”
And that decision to use the less-lethal gun without any discussion curtailed the efforts of another officer, Banegas, who had been attempting to reason with Delgado. She was perhaps the only officer that recognized he was having an emotional crisis, but there was no communication between her and other officers. The six-minute scene ended before a supervising officer could arrive to coordinate the cops on scene and devise a plan.
On top of everything else, a woman who some officers believed to be harmless, one of Delgado’s friends, was not removed from the car during the encounter — which culminated in a hail of bullets.
“It felt really fast,” Banegas told investigators when they suggested she had been talking to Delgado for “a long time.”
“It didn’t feel that long at all,” she said.
Delgado’s mother, Maria, attributed the speed at which the incident took place to bias. “I feel like my son’s worst sin was being Latino,” she said. “That’s probably why they didn’t give him an opportunity.”
According to multiple video angles of the scene, Delgado fired the first bullet and this is what the police command staff stressed during the town hall meeting a week after the incident. But he was not the first to act aggressively. He shot his gun only after being hit with the less-lethal round — and it’s unclear if he even knew what hit him since officers never, as policy dictates, warned him that they were firing a beanbag round, only that they would “shoot.”
Three separate investigations by the District Attorney, SFPD and the Department of Police Accountability are ongoing.
Delgado’s friend since the fifth grade, Victor Navarro-Flores, followed officers’ commands, exiting the car with hands raised early in the encounter. As he was being handcuffed near the driver’s side of his Honda before the shooting, Navarro told investigators Delgado said to him: “Dude, I’m sorry for putting you through this, but I’m not going back to jail and I’m not getting deported.”
Delgado was born on Dec. 25, 1998, in Guadalajara, Mexico, to Jose Delgado, a wood seller, and Maria Duarte, a domestic worker. Jose arrived first in San Francisco in 1999, working odd jobs to save money. Maria followed two years later with Jesus and his two older siblings, crossing the Rio Grande on a truck tire, and eventually traversing the southern border into McAllen, Texas. They eventually found their way to meet Jose in San Francisco’s Mission District.
In a recent interview, the parents described their son as a “joyful child” who received honors throughout grade school but sometimes gravitated toward troublemakers. The young Delgado met Navarro at Aptos Middle School in Balboa Terrace, they said. Delgado eventually graduated from Life Learning Academy High School on Treasure Island in December 2016, and had his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status renewed a month later, his parents said.
“Now that he had his papers, he was thinking about getting a better job,” Maria said in Spanish through an interpreter. “Around those days, he was talking about getting a license for haircutting.”
“Dopher,” as his friends called him, had a girlfriend and also held a job at the Metro PCS store at 2380 Mission St. That’s where he was finishing a shift around 8 p.m. on March 6, 2018, hours before he found himself in the trunk of his friend’s car two blocks away on Capp Street.
A friend named “Jairo” picked up Delgado and they drove to the McDonald’s at 24th and Mission, where they were joined by Navarro and Navarro’s girlfriend, Cristina Juarez, according to Navarro’s interview with detectives and a civil lawsuit filed by Delgado’s family. Delgado consumed Xanax at the McDonalds.
Jairo broke off, but the three others continued their evening together, stopping by Muzio’s, a liquor store on 21st and South Van Ness, where they picked up Backwoods cigars and some water. By around 10:33 p.m., the three teenagers had parked on Capp Street between 21st and 22nd.
Soon after, Delgado robbed a man at gunpoint, according to victims. But the nature of the crime is disputed. The lawsuit filed by Delgado’s family alleges that Navarro asked Delgado “to do him a favor to collect a debt from two men about a block away.”
By contrast, Navarro told investigators that the robbery was Delgado’s idea.
Surveillance footage shows Navarro park the Honda Civic on Capp Street between 21st and 22nd, and Delgado leaving the car while Navarro opens the trunk and gets back into the driver’s seat. (Navarro pleaded guilty to robbery in June and was sentenced to 128-days in county jail.)
What isn’t disputed is that Navarro attempted to drive away around 10:36 p.m. after Delgado hopped in the trunk, never quite able to shut the lid. They were immediately stopped by officers who had been patrolling the area of 21st and Capp streets.
The first on the scene, Officers Stephen Cassinelli, Joshua Tupper, and Sean Cody flashed their lights from behind the three teenagers as they attempted to flee. The teenagers’ Honda stopped. The three officers initiated the standoff with Delgado with their guns drawn. Two minutes later — by 10:38 p.m. — some four other patrol cars had converged on the scene, and 10 officers had their guns pointed at the trunk where they could clearly see the supine Delgado.
Banegas, a Spanish-speaking SFPD veteran, also arrived on the scene at around 10:38 p.m.
While speaking with one of the alleged robbery victims, she heard other officers shouting at Delgado. Officers were also asking for a Spanish-speaking officer. At that point, Banegas realized she needed to break through the swirl of commands she thought may have confused the teenager in the trunk.
“That’s why I was thinking, ‘I need a PA. I need a PA,’” she told investigators.
Less than a minute later, at around 10:41 p.m., Banegas was trying to speak to Delgado through the PA of the patrol car closest to him. She told investigators that she could see the teenager’s face clearly.
“We were in close proximity,” she said in a separate interview with investigators five months after the incident. “I felt like he was the distance between you and I.”
“Show your hands — open the trunk,” she said to Delgado in Spanish. “Sir, please show your hands.”
As she tried to communicate with Delgado, Banegas said that she could see that his emotions fluctuated wildly. One moment he looked as though he wanted to cry. Then he displayed a blank stare. Although Banegas’s voice was calm and almost pleading, some of her commands might have escalated the standoff. “If you don’t show your hands, we will shoot,” she said multiple times.
Benegas told investigators that she thought Delgado’s mind was running through his options. “Cycling,” she said, relaying what she felt was going through his mind. “‘Should I give up? Should I do something [?]’”
While Banegas was speaking with Delgado, another officer also had a strategy to get a response from the teenager.
Officer Bryan Santana arrived on the scene at roughly the same time as Banegas. He saw numerous officers pointing handguns and rifles at the black Honda Civic, which was illuminated by a spotlight.
Santana, then a two-year veteran of the force and a regular foot beat officer on 24th Street, saw officers taking the car’s driver, who later turned out to be Navarro, into custody. He also saw someone in the trunk of the car.
“He wasn’t doing anything, wasn’t moving, just sitting there,” Santana told detectives the next day.
As officers continued to shout commands and Benegas had started to speak to Delgado through the PA, Santana surmised — without discussion with anyone else — that the scene “had almost become stagnant.” Enough officers were pointing their guns at Delgado. Santana thought he could contribute in another way.
“I just knew that there was so many officers that had already had lethal cover pointing towards the car,” Santana told detectives. “I wanted to provide something different and was looking around to see if anyone had a [beanbag gun], or something less lethal, or something other than a gun.”
Santana found one and readied it.
He joined the line of officers standing roughly 15 feet away from Delgado. Banegas was already speaking to Delgado through a PA.
Banegas had been asking Delgado to show his hands for one minute and nine seconds at this point. Santana surmised that this was enough time, and he decided to initiate another strategy.
Without orders from any supervising officer — there wasn’t one — and without consulting Banegas or anyone else on the scene, Santana abruptly announced he would shoot the beanbag gun and shot it.
“So, I because I wanted to see his hand [and] I didn’t want him to pull a gun out, I shot the [beanbag gun],” Santana told investigators.
This is the code word officers use to indicate a less-lethal weapon is being fired — and the first notice Banegas received that Santana was firing his weapon was when he shouted it.
After a mere 69 seconds of dialog from a Spanish-speaking officer, the beanbag round struck Delgado on the right forearm.
“Suddenly his facial expressed changed,” Banegas recalled. “It was rage. He was angry.”
It was clear to Banegas that once the beanbag was fired, Delgado made up his mind.
Delgado “just made his decision, like ‘no, this is what I’m gonna do’ …”
She heard him make a “warrior-like” scream. Other officers heard him scream “Fuck you!”
With the gun in his left hand, he shot once at the officers. The response was immediate.
Officer Stephen Cassinelli fired 13 times, emptying his handgun.
Officer John Ishida fired 13 times, emptying his handgun.
Officer Sean O’Rourke fired 13 times, emptying his handgun.
Officer Colby Smets, fired 13 times, emptying his handgun.
Officer Corbyn Carroll fired 13 times, emptying his handgun.
Officer Juan Gustilo fired nine times from his handgun.
Officer Loren Chiu shot nine times from his handgun.
Officer Nicholas Nagai shot six times from his handgun.
Officer Ari Smith-Russak shot four times from an AR-15 rifle.
Officer Joshua Tupper shot six times from an AR-15 rifle.
Some of the bullets ricocheted off the car and hit neighboring homes, though no residents were injured. After five continuous seconds, the firing ceased, and several officers remembered seeing the silhouette of a person pop up in the back seat of the Honda Civic. It was Cristina Juarez, the girlfriend of the driver, Navarro. Her hands were shaking, Banegas recalled. “I mean, she’s shaking.”
Juarez had been left in the back seat, along with her pitbull puppy. Some officers had known she was in the car — but they fired anyway, telling investigators that they attempted aim away from the back seat.
“I made an attempt to point my rifle in a direction that would hit the suspect without hitting the female in the car,” Officer Smith-Russak, who shot with an AR-15 rifle, told investigators. “Because at that point I did not believe that she was a threat.”
Sitting in a nearby patrol car with the window open, Navarro heard his girlfriend screaming and crying, he told investigators. “Please don’t shoot us, please don’t shoot us,” he heard her yelling.
The lawsuit filed by the Delgado family, which accuses the city of wrongfully killing Delgado and violating his Fourth Amendment rights, alleges that Juarez had been intoxicated and asleep throughout the encounter — though it’s unclear what evidence this claim is based on.
The SFPD Legal Division said it has not been able to locate a recording of Juarez’s interview with detectives, according to a June 18, 2018, letter sent to the Department of Police Accountability investigators. The interview may shed more light into Delgado’s state of mind or, at the very least, confirm how Juarez was left on the wrong end of 10 SFPD guns.
Juarez could not be reached for comment.
Navarro was nonetheless freaking out. “It was just crazy because I don’t know what he was doing, like he just didn’t want to get out of the trunk or what?” Navarro told investigators that night. “And they just opened fire on him.”
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