Body camera footage of Officer Nicholas Delgado moments after he shot Cesar Vargas.

Two San Francisco Police officers shot 21-year-old Cesar Antonio Vargas four times as Vargas ran toward them holding a knife at his side, body-camera footage released Monday at a virtual town hall meeting showed. It was the first fatal police shooting in San Francisco in more than two years. 

The footage was one of many pieces of evidence the police department presented during its Monday meeting to make the case that its shooting and killing of Vargas was justified. Meanwhile, police critics said the officers could have done more to de-escalate the situation. 

According to the police, the incident began around 11:25 p.m. on Oct. 10 at Valencia and Market streets. Surveillance footage and witnesses observed Vargas open a car door and immediately close it. Vargas then allegedly approached a Prius stopped in traffic on Market Street, jumped on its windshield, and then opened the driver’s side door, according to surveillance footage police showed at the meeting. He then allegedly held a knife to the driver’s face and pulled her from the vehicle. 

Surveillance footage showed a man, allegedly Vargas, get into the Prius, but it only rolled several feet before he popped out and ran east on Market toward Gough Street. 

Vargas walked past a Muni bus and pushed a disembarking passenger as he walked by, according to Muni bus footage. Moving south on Gough, Vargas allegedly attempted to make contact with another person in a car, but was deterred by a bystander, according to a recording of a 911 call placed by the bystander. 

Responding to at least four emergency calls, Officers Kyle Roach and Nicholas Delgado arrived at the scene of the apparent car-jacking of the Prius. They spoke to several witnesses, who pointed them in Vargas’ direction. 

The officers quickly caught up to him on Otis Street between Gough and Brady streets. They exited their patrol car, pointed their guns at Vargas and told him to show his hands and drop a knife he was allegedly carrying. The body camera footage shows Vargas carrying an object resembling the knife police subsequently found at the scene. 

After about 15 seconds of officers ordering Vargas to show his hands, Vargas removed his sunglasses, threw them to the ground, and ran toward Delgado, the body camera footage showed. 

Although it’s difficult to hear in the video, police allege that Vargas yelled, “Bitch, I’ll kill ya,” as he ran toward Delgado. But Vargas never raised the knife at the officer as he sprinted toward Delgado. 

Vargas was less than 10 feet away from Delgado when the officers began shooting. 

Both of the officers’ body camera footage then shows Delgado and Roach collectively shoot Vargas four times. Vargas falls prone to the ground and moans. He then becomes unresponsive, as officers handcuff him and attempt to provide medical aid. 

Delgado and Roach are currently on administrative leave, police said. 

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott reminded the town hall’s attendees that five concurrent investigations of this shooting are in their early stages. Those are being conducted by the District Attorney, the SFPD’s Internal Affairs Division, the SFPD’s Investigative Services Detail, the Department of Police Accountability, and the Medical Examiner. 

Scott said that “video recordings provide a limited perspective.” 

“In fact, there are many other factors to consider, including witness statements, physical evidence, forensic analysis, to name a few,” he said.

Several town hall participants supported the police officers’ shooting and killing of Vargas. “This is a clear thing,” said one woman who called into the meeting to comment. “If someone was running at me with a blade, I would 100 percent protect myself.” 

The woman said the killing was “totally justified.” 

But some observers expressed anger and disappointment at the shooting, painting it as another example of why American policing requires fundamental change. “The video that I saw was distressing,” said a man who identified himself as a resident of SoMa. “Vargas should not have come at the police officer like that, but the police officers should not have killed him.” 

“It’s crazy that we’re living in a system where some of us are looking at this and saying it’s okay that they shot him because he was” apparently committing crimes, the resident continued. “You look at other countries and they don’t have this problem. You can see videos of police just de-escalating that exact same situation without violence.”  

The last fatal SFPD shooting was of Jehad Eid in March, 2018, in an Excelsior barber shop during a shootout between the 21-year-old and police. Earlier that month, police shot and killed Jesus Delgado on Capp Street after Delgado shot once at the officers. They fired back 99 times, ending an interaction that lasted all of six minutes. 

However, the SFPD has successfully de-escalated tense situations. In July, 2020, the SFPD engaged in an eight-hour standoff with a Vietnam veteran carrying a metal pole on 18th Street, eventually disarming him. The man was subsequently taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. 

Adriana Camarena, a police reform activist who advocated for the family of Luis Gongora Pat — a homeless Mexican immigrant whom officers shot and killed in the Mission in April 2016 — suggested the tactics of the July incident could have been used with Vargas. 

The evidence police presented showed that Vargas was having a crisis, she said, and police should have done more. 

“What did the officers do to de-escalate the situation other than rush this individual?” she said. “Were there any other situations in which a perimeter was created and which some sort of containment was happening? Did these officers make a plan to de-escalate? Because I didn’t see any.”

Julian Mark

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. He carjacks…
    He assaults…
    Then he charges a cop with knife in hand, saying they’re going to die.

    Ya it sucks anyone has to die but in that split second cops have a right to defend themselves.

      1. They made exactly the right decision. Whether a mental break, drug induced psychosis or mix of both these officers deserved to go home to their families. They had no other choice. You can’t deescalate when being charged with a knife. They had to pursue as he had already assaulted others.

        Good work SFPD.

        Want this situation to be less frequent. Make it a priority to remove the meth and fentanyl from the streets.

    1. I went to school w Cesar back in old time David a weir (2007-08) he was always cherry happy guy even up to Sullivan middle school times still same happy quiet guy..but after he left Fairfield high is when he changed & started getting into trouble from drugs to being arrested w a illegal fire arm then now this..real devastating rip man never forget u and me Miguel were friends w him

  2. This was a tragedy all around.
    You ask 5 people and you’ll get 5 different opinions.
    How do you deescalate when someone is running towards you with a knife?? There’s one camp that supports Police, and another that will never support or agree with anything re: Police.. It’s all going to come down to a lawsuit against the Dept. And the standard family saying he was a great promising life ahead. Settled out of court for Millions, with the standard civil rights attorney doing the tv shows, everyone gets their Money.
    Cynical of course. It’s always the same story. And yet some want to Defund the POLICE, SF need all 1200 officers not less.

  3. Ah… it really unfortunate that people aren’t getting psychiatric help that they need. If the cops were better trained to deescalate, and make use of nonlethal methods, they could’ve captured the guy alive, but that is a risky move, even if they were really well trained.

  4. All these people angry at the police, they have never had a crazy person charge at them with a knife. A knife can kill or seriously injure, those officers are 100% in their rights to defend themselves.

    It’s insane there’s actually people who support Vargas, but I guess that’s San Francisco for ya. This is as good a shooting as can be. Some people just hate the police I don’t know why their input is even being given any spotlights.

    “Defund SFPD” … it’s absurd. These people should be put on a list of callers to never be able to call 911.

    There’s really nothing more the officers could have done, if they let the carjacker go, he could have hurt someone else. This is why we have the police, so they deal with these people, not the citizens

  5. This is ridiculous! The way in which this article is written certainly has a bias against the officers. The guy put a knife to a woman’s throat!! Charged at police officers with a knife. MissionnLocal is part of the problem. Causing i necessary unrest in a community that’s already under pressure.

      1. “ Although it’s difficult to hear in the video, police allege that Vargas yelled, “Bitch, I’ll kill ya,” as he ran toward Delgado. But Vargas never raised the knife at the officer as he sprinted toward Delgado. “

        The implication here is that the officers were not actually in danger because he did not raise the knife shows some bias. That’s plainly false given the totality of the circumstances, where the attacker has already been threatening and is sprinting toward the cops. Cops didn’t have to wait until he was raising the knife in a way where he could have thrown it and killed them. This guy was an active threat who had to be taken down.

        1. Sir — 

          You’re using your own bias to read an “implication” into a straightforward statement of what happened on the video. There is neither a justification nor condemnation of the officers’ actions in our story.

          JE

  6. “Vargas should not have come at the police officer like that, but the police officers should not have killed him.”

    Yes, the officers should have used their tasers instead….

    1. Mel, apparently you have not been paying attention all these years. SFPD has been asking for tasers for about 10 years. The Mayors, the BOS, the police commission, and the advocates have given SFPD a resounding NO on that request. In fact, with the defunding sentiment against police departments, what do you think will be most affected by that movement? It’ll be training and equipment.

    2. Mel SFPD does not have tasers. Further more educate yourself and read 835 of the California penal code before you give an unsolicited opinion that is wrong

    3. The progressives in San Francisco have continuously refused to allow SFPD to use tasers, so SFPD does not have that option

    4. Mel, The police in San Francisco do not have tasers. The police commission voted NO on that idea years ago.

  7. If I was the officer facing a knife wielding man running quickly towards me I can’t say I would have acted differently. Even if I judged the blade to be short, I still would have feared for my life. Even a three or four inch blade can kill. As someone who has taught de-escalation methods, including to SFPD officers, It is not clear to me how this tragic confrontation could have been de-escalated or avoided once the police were on the street confronting him.

    The only way this shooting may have been avoided was if the police had all stayed inside of their cars, with their windows rolled up and yelled at him through their loud speakers. That assumes, however, they knew he had a knife and not a gun and that no one else was nearby and possibly in danger. Staying in their cars also goes against their training, protocols and instincts.

    Stepping back, this fatal shooting breaks a two year record without one. SFPD has actually done well in this two year stretch. No fatal shootings for two years. That also makes this so sad.

  8. He made the choices that he did. No one could have done anything to change what happened. What makes this scary is the fact that he had no empathy whatsoever to his own community, carjacking, assaulting people, how evil lives among us innocent people and what we deal with day to day. I pray for God to protect me and my family because there are people like this man who just have to find satisfaction in harming people. This was retribution, this would never have happened if he treated everyone around him with compassion and kindness, being a thug and gangster, doesn’t get you anywhere you always have to look over your shoulder for life and you will always have witnesses that see the truth of your evil nature. People protesting and saying its the cops fault really need to understand how serious the situation was, it could have been any of us poor souls in the community that would have had our carjacked or been assaulted, people need to wake up he was a grown man who knew exactly what he wanted to do and had no regard for anyone else.

  9. His actions justified the police defense , Cops are not being paid enough to be Killed !
    If you do not agree then become a Cop and refuse to take any action to protect yourself !

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