Mario Woods shooting
Mario Woods was shot and killed by five SFPD officers on Dec. 2 2015.

The Department of Police Accountability has found that five officers who shot and killed Mario Woods in December 2015 all used “unnecessary force” — but ultimately concluded that the officers should receive no discipline, as they deviated from no policies at the time. 

That is according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Police Accountability, the civilian oversight agency that conducted an independent investigation of the police shooting. Instead of finding that the officers’ use of deadly force on Woods was a result of misconduct, the DPA concluded that the shooting revealed wide-ranging lapses in the SFPD’s policy at the time.

“Arguably, the named officers’ conduct at the moment they used deadly force could be found in policy in light of the Department’s Use of Firearms policy that existed at the time of the incident,” the report states. “In fact, SFPD did find the officers’ conduct in policy. However, when considering the entire chain of events that led to the officers’ use of lethal force, the DPA concludes that the excessive force allegation is the result of a policy failure.”  

In other words, the officers did not break any rules at the time, and the DPA had no grounds to recommend discipline. 

The report explained that the police department did not have a codified de-escalation policy at the time of the incident. De-escalation, which the department implemented in December 2016, requires officers to use “time and distance” and “utilize cover” to diminish the likelihood of a tense situation where deadly force becomes more likely. Revised partly as a result of Woods’ killing, the policy also stresses proportional use of force and that officers exhaust all necessary alternatives before resorting to deadly force. 

Since that policy went into effect, overall use-of-force incidents have dropped precipitously. Moreover, the SFPD has not fatally shot a civilian since March 2018. 

Nevertheless, as part of its report on the Woods shooting, the DPA made 17 additional policy recommendations, many of them aimed at how police investigate and evaluate the shootings after they happen. 

Read the Department of Police Accountability’s full report here.

For example, the DPA recommended that officers involved in a shooting be interviewed before they view their body-worn camera footage of the incident. It also recommended that, during their investigation of the shootings, higher-ups carefully factor in the phenomenon of “contagious fire,” a reference to multiple shots being fired. That happened in the case of Woods — when officers shot at him 27 times — and in the case of Jesus Delgado, who officers shot at 99 times in the Mission in 2018

In addition to the findings of unnecessary force in the killing of Woods, the DPA concluded that the officers who earlier deployed “less-lethal” force on Woods — pepper spray and beanbag rounds — did not coordinate, resulting in the use of excessive force. 

“It did not appear that there was any communication, coordination or plan as to whether or when to use less lethal force,” the report says.

Despite these failures, the DPA found that their conduct was “in policy,” as there was no established policy at the time for these officers to break. The DPA blamed the resulting excessive force on a “policy failure.” 

“The DPA recommends that whenever less lethal force is used in conjunction with a deadly force incident, the officer-involved shooting review process should include a detailed analysis of whether the deployment of less lethal force is consistent with policy and training,” the report says. 

Although the SFPD’s killing of Woods rocked San Francisco, prompting a U.S. Department of Justice review and changes in SFPD policy, there have been few consequences for the officers who shot him. 

All five of the officers who shot woods — Charles August, Winson Seto, Nicholas Cuevas, Scott Phillips, Antonio Santos — remain with the SFPD, said police spokesman Officer Robert Rueca. 

In addition, then-District Attorney George Gascón declined to file criminal charges against the officers in May 2018. And in June 2019, Gwen Woods, Mario’s mother, settled a lawsuit with the city for $400,000 — a settlement that may have been larger if a judge hadn’t granted the officers qualified immunity. 

Reacting to the news, Nancy Pili, a Mission District police accountability activist, repeated an often-used chant: “If there are no consequences, there’s no confidence.” 

“If you can execute a person with eight different officers surrounding him, and get away with it, then I have no confidence,” she said.

Without serious consequences for these officers, she added, the SFPD is “a beast with no reins.”   

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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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  1. Yes. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt to a crazed, drugged-out, street person. As for the officers, who needs them? Uh, actually, we do.

  2. Zero reason to hold the officers to a new standard for an old mistake.
    There was justice via Cash $$$ and a change in policy.

  3. This was such a sad event on all accounts. But let’s review the series of events that led to this tragedy.

    The cops first spotted Mario Woods, a suspect in a stabbing, standing with a knife at a bus stop at Keith Street and Fitzgerald Avenue.

    Mario said, “I’m not going with you,” to the officers who arrived on scene. The cops formed a semicircle around Mario as he stood against a nearby wall.

    Police used pepper spray on Mario and fired beanbag and foam rounds at him, but he refused to drop his weapon and began shuffling along the wall.

    The police wanted to prevent Mario from going towards bystanders who were at a bus stop on the block. Only when Mario got within 10 feet of the officers, did they opened fire.

  4. This was simply, a firing squad. No blindfold, no last cigarette.

    Shame on San Francisco for letting it go unpunished.

    If the same incident happened in Texas or some other southern state, we would be on our high horses about racist police.

    But it happened in our City, on a public street in broad daylight.

    What could be wrong, not enough police to handle the situation? That must be it…

  5. Did the report specify what the officers should have done at the moment of shooting? Woods was holding a knife that he had earlier stabbed someone with. Refused extensive demands to drop it. Then he walked towards an officer while holding it.

    So the correct action is just to get out of his way and let him leave? Do the officers then follow him wherever he wishes to go?

  6. Julian:

    Would you please consider writing a follow-up story on why it took so long for DPA to investigate this incident and reach a conclusion?
    They should have wrapped this up within a year. Why isn’t anyone asking DPA why it took them four and half years to investigate this? This case should have been their top priority. A *criminal* investigation of this incident was completed in far less time!

    And why was there a two month delay between the issuance of the DPA report and the DPA making this report available to the public?

  7. You need to change the Title of this article to reflect the true contents. “Officers who killed Mario Woods used ‘unnecessary force’ due to Policy Failures by the San Francisco Police Commission.

  8. This story overlooked the fact that Woods was armed with a knife, had already stabbed one person, was crazed on drugs, and that nonlethal force had already been used on him unsuccessfully.

  9. The so-called report is a farce.

    It condones the killing of a human being in cold blood.

    The people who killed Mr. Woods got away with murder.

    1. Which victim are you referring g to ? Form what I know there is a stabbing victim and the person who allegedly stabbed him still had the knife in his hand …

  10. Soooo basically good job officers ?? Bad job police commission?? What exactly does the DPA do other than sort of waste $$ and write these reports that mean nothing.

    Has anyone followed up with the stabbing victim ? I hope he’s doing ok.

    Mario sounded like he was not going to go peacefully. In fact, he said it aloud multiple times.

    1. This kid was mentally unstable at the time so his execution was not necessary! I knew this young man and he was a nice person who did not deserve to to die in this manner.

  11. Interesting. I trust the DPA. But qualified immunity needs to go. Just because we can’t prosecute MOST police, common sense says there are obvious civil wrongs that if allowed will greatly reduce these reckless acts by law enforcement.

    1. They should remove qualified immunity from Politicians, so they can be liable for letting anarchists destroy businesses, by telling the Cops to stand down.

    2. So the cops violated no laws, according to Gascon, and they did not violate policy, according to DPA but you still want to punish them ?

      For what ?