One man died and two people were critically injured in a shooting that took place during a sideshow on Mission and Persia streets early Monday morning, in which multiple eyewitnesses said that police moved in only after shots were fired.
Witnesses told Mission Local that police officers had been on the scene for several minutes, and were allowing the sideshow to continue — but immediately intervened after shots rang out, participants scattered, and a man identified as 21-year-old Cesar Corza of Sacramento was fatally wounded.
Sideshows are unsanctioned events in which participants perform donuts in their cars in an intersection as onlookers block off the streets to cheer and watch. On Aug. 23, a sideshow took place at 24th and Bryant streets, although no one was apparently injured.
Sideshows are illegal, and police consider them dangerous, but it’s unclear if police know how to effectively deal with them.
Regarding Sunday’s incident, San Francisco Police Department spokesman Officer Robert Rueca sent the following statement to Mission Local in an email on Monday:
“On 9/7/20 at approximately 12:16 AM officers responded to a sideshow in the area of Russia and Paris St. As officers were responding to the area of the sideshow they located a total of three victims in the area of Mission and Persia suffering from gun shot wounds. The victims were transported to the hospital for life threatening injuries. One of the victims succumbed to the injuries and was declared deceased. At this time we do not have suspect description to provide and do not have anyone in custody for the homicide. At this stage of the investigation we are unable to confirm the tie between the sideshow and the shooting as this is part of the ongoing and active homicide investigation.”
But resident Julian Ostrow, who witnessed much of the incident from a rooftop near the intersection of Mission and Persia streets, provided an account that diverged from the SFPD’s official line. For starters, Ostrow said, he did not see police respond to the sideshow until around 12:45 a.m.
When police did arrive, Ostrow said, he saw one patrol car park on Ocean Street facing the sideshow with its flashing lights on — but those officers did not attempt to break it up.
“Police were there,” Ostrow said, “at least one watching for five minutes.”
Then, he said, the shooting took place — four bursts of three or four shots, Ostrow said — all from within the crowd of around 200 people who dispersed from the gathering immediately. At that point, Ostrow said, there was an “initial wave of five police cars that responded extremely quickly and more and more kept rolling in.”
Judging from the speed at which police responded to the gunfire, Ostrow believes additional police officers had been monitoring the sideshow from a short distance, although he is not certain.
Gina Rosales was on the rooftop with Ostrow. She recalls two police cars watching the scene from the corner of Ocean Avenue and Persia Street. She heard them give dispersal orders through a PA from their cars “five to 10” minutes before the shooting. Save for a few participants, those orders were not followed, she said.
“Is this the strategy?” Rosales thought.
She noted that the two police cars she saw took approximately 40 minutes to show up on Ocean from when she first observed the sideshow. “It was a long time,” she said.
The San Francisco Police Department declined to answer questions regarding how long officers had been observing the incident before the shooting occurred. The department also declined to provide a complete picture of their strategy.
“Due to the large crowd and number of vehicles involved in the sideshow, officers were not able to take enforcement action, which could spur on more violence and aggression from the participants and bystanders,” Rueca wrote when asked about the SFPD’s strategy. “Officers were on scene during the sideshow documenting their observations when shots rang out.”
“We are precluded from providing specific information on investigative tactics, such as the number of officers and the length of time officers began their observations,” he added.
Following a February sideshow in the Richmond District, witnesses observed a similar response by police. “The police finally came like 30 minutes later and they said they couldn’t do nothing about it. And so they just kind of watched,” resident Tiffany Gardner told ABC 7.
Such reports prompted Mayor London Breed to scold SFPD Chief Bill Scott in text messages released via a public records request in May. “Needed to understand the news reports about the side shows this weekend,” Breed to wrote to the chief on Feb. 24. “Why did the police stay on the sidelines and allow them to happen?”
Much of Scott’s response is redacted in the text message exchange, but he appeared to deny that police simply stand by and watch. “Not sure what they saw or why they said what they said but what I do know is when officers arrive at sideshows … [redacted].”
For Ostrow, however, it does not matter what the SFPD’s policy is: “They had the opportunity to intervene,” he said. “Had they done so, there would not be somebody dead.”
Joe Eskenazi contributed reporting.
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