The mayor’s chief officer of criminal justice and public safety suggested to 60 community members at a virtual town hall Wednesday evening that the May 1 shooting at 14th and Guerrero streets that left one man injured and another man dead may have been a case of “phone pimping” that has been happening across the city.
“Phone pimping,” James Caldwell explained, means that individuals will see someone they may not like hanging out in an area and call someone who then drives to the location and targets that individual. Generally, he said, these kinds of incidents have been happening at Valencia Gardens and elsewhere in San Francisco.
Innocent bystanders can get caught in the crossfire, he said, offering some insight into the night of May 1, when someone fired off 50 to 60 gunshots at 8:30 p.m., killing Courtney Brousseau, a 22-year-old transit activist and Twitter employee, who was on his way home.
Brousseau died days later in the hospital. A 17-year-old man, whom police have not identified, was also struck and suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Over the last four or five months, Valencia Gardens has been experiencing acts of violence, Caldwell said.
Speaking about the case at 14th and Guerrero specifically, he added, “You could say it was an isolated situation, but it was something that kind of spilled over from other things that were happening around the city.”
And, apparently, spilling over from the entire region. Caldwell said there has been “extensive cross-city, cross-county collaborations in trying to de-escalate some of the violence that’s coming from San Francisco, Oakland, Richmond, and San Jose, and how these young men and women are maneuvering throughout the Bay Area.”
Mission Station Capt. Gaetano Caltagirone declined to elaborate or to confirm that scenario.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” he said. “I can’t reveal a lot because I don’t want to jeopardize the case.”
Caltagirone did say that the police department’s gang unit, as well as its homicide investigators and public housing officers, are actively looking for the suspects. He made it clear Brousseau was an innocent bystander and said the community might be “hearing soon” of new developments.
“Do we anticipate that this is an unresolved situation that is going to lead to more violence immediately around Valencia Gardens in that area?” asked Supervisor Rafael Mandelman who called the meeting.
“I can’t say it will never happen again,” Caltagirone said, but he’s working to “try to prevent this from happening here and in other districts.”
The hour-long community meeting lacked the visible emotions and passion that tend to boil over at town halls following a shooting. At Wednesday’s Zoom meeting, community members’ faces and voices remained largely hidden.
But there were questions.
One community member, whose comment and question was read by Mandelman’s legislative aide Tom Temprano, said that the 50 to 60 shots purportedly fired during the incident was troubling. The person said they’ve heard of a few such incidents happening throughout the city.
Chief Bill Scott, indeed, told the Police Commission last Wednesday that police are investigating a shooting at the Alice Griffith housing project on April 28 in the Bayview, in which 100 shots were fired, as well as a shooting along Ocean Avenue on May 12 in which around 50 were fired. The chief said they were connected, gang-related, and involved high-powered rifles.
“Are these all related?” the person asked.
“We’re having a season,” Caldwell said. “This is not something typical that happens on a normal basis.”
One person who identified himself as “Dominic” worried that crime was spiking in the area. “How often is patrolling taking place, not only in Valencia Gardens but also on 14th Street and 15th Street?” he asked.
Caltagirone said he was examining crime statistics in certain areas — such as car break-ins and home burglaries — and those stats are given to patrol officers. “So the officers who are patrolling have an idea of what’s going on in the areas,” he said.
Sam Moss, the executive director of Mission Housing, the nonprofit that runs Valencia Gardens and finished redeveloping it in 2006, said that Mission Housing is continually trying to improve its security protocols. He said they had “the most extensive video camera system in all affordable housing in the Bay Area.”
Moss recognized that incidents like the May 1 shooting should never happen, but he reminded community members: “I think that anyone that remembers the old Valencia Gardens will certainly tell you that it’s night and day.”