The brother of Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus, a San Francisco Police Department sergeant named Luis DeJesus, racked up at least six excessive force complaints and was involved in at least three officer-involved shootings while serving as a police officer in the Bayview district, according to newly released documents.
The three shootings, one in 2001 and two in 2010, appear not to have killed or severely injured anyone. However, in two of them, DeJesus shot at a moving vehicle, which is considered hazardous and is now strictly prohibited by police department policy. In five of the excessive force complaints, DeJesus was central, including one in which a tussle between DeJesus and a suspect left the man severely injured with shards of glass in his chest.
Despite the shootings and the complaints, DeJesus is currently an SFPD sergeant earning $150,000 a year, according to city records.
The use-of-force history of Sgt. DeJesus, released under a new state transparency law, paints the profile of a police officer that stands in stark contrast to his sister, a progressive fixture on the civilian panel tasked with overseeing the police department.
To be sure, Commissioner DeJesus is in no way responsible for her brother’s behavior, and was never in a position to rule on any of his cases, but the number and circumstances of his cases illustrate how many times an officer can be the target of a complaint, but nonetheless retain and even flourish in the SFPD.
Petra DeJesus is the senior member of the commission, having served for some 15 years. She has often used her position to demand more accountability from the police. Her brother, meanwhile, appears to have mostly dodged accountability for past claims of excessive force. All of the prior claims against him were “not sustained” — meaning investigators could not find enough evidence to recommend discipline against him.
That outcome is no different than what happens in most complaints against police officers. In 2005, the year DeJesus received three complaints, less than 3 percent of all complaint investigations completed by the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) resulted in sustained findings. In the complaints against DeJesus, as happens in many, investigators were forced to weigh a civilian’s word against the accounts of officers — and consequently could not “prove or disprove” wrongdoing by the officer, according to the records.
The number of cases in which the watchdog agency sustains misconduct allegations has grown in recent years. The Department of Police Accountability, formerly the OCC, sustained 19 percent of its cases in 2019. Still, even cases in which misconduct was discovered often result in little or no discipline.
Commissioner DeJesus declined to be interviewed about her brother. Instead, she wrote in a text message: “Please understand that I am recused from decisions and topics related to my brother and so I will not be able to comment about him.”
Asked whether her brother’s policing record has had any bearing on the kind of commissioner she’s become, she responded that “I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s and the social justice issues of those times impacted me.” She highlighted her past as a lawyer with the Mission Legal Defense and the Public Defender’s Office, “striving to provide social justice for our community.”
Regarding the excessive force complaints, she said, “I think most of them are before I was on the commission but I cannot be sure.”
Excessive force allegations
Petra DeJesus joined the Police Commission in late 2005, the year her brother received three complaints for excessive force. None of them were sustained, so they would not have come before the Police Commission.
In one incident in August 2005, DeJesus allegedly beat a man with a flashlight after he had been handcuffed and under control. DeJesus denied that the flashlight beating had taken place, telling investigators that he had only punched the man in the face to protect himself and the other officers before the handcuffs went on. Other police officers at the scene provided a similar story.
But in the complaint, a Black man, whose name was redacted in the investigative files, was certain that once he was handcuffed, “DeJesus grabbed me in front of me and started beating me with the flashlight.”
The allegations were not sustained; the oversight agency cited a lack of evidence.
Only months earlier, that June, a young boy — whose name and age were redacted from the files — alleged that DeJesus and another officer beat him after he had surrendered. The boy, who initially ran from the police near Third and Newhall streets, said that after he stopped running and put his hands up, DeJesus and another officer took him to the ground. He alleged that DeJesus hit him in the face and kneed him in the ribs. Some of the boy’s family members, who witnessed the incident, corroborated the account.
But DeJesus told investigators that his force was minimal, used only to gain control of the boy, who was hiding his hands and resisting, according to DeJesus. “I ended up having to strike him one time in the face area,” he told investigators. “At which time he stopped resisting.”
The watchdog agency determined it could not sustain the allegations, as “no independent witnesses came forward” and “there was insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove” the excessive force allegations.
In another incident that took place in November 2004, police officers, including DeJesus, showed up in a woman’s backyard as they pursued a suspect, apparently the woman’s son. Police alleged that the woman splashed bleach on them to fend them off, prompting the police to force their way into her house and take control of her with necessary force.
Yet, while the woman admitted to splashing bleach, she said she believed they were intruders, not police officers. And she alleged that after police entered her house and handcuffed her, they continued to beat her until she was unconscious.
“The only thing I do remember is when I was on the ground, [DeJesus] grabbed me by my hair, that’s how I became conscious, he maced me and hit me in my face with the can [of pepper spray] because my nose was broken right here … and he hit me in the face with the mace can and he said, ‘Bitch you like to throw things,’ and he sprayed in my face,” she told investigators.
She indicated to the investigator that he sprayed the mace six inches from her eyes, kicked her, and then dragged her down stairs, saying “Shut up, bitch.”
By contrast, DeJesus said in his police report that the woman had splashed him several times with the bleach, “continued to violently resist,” and “kicked me several times in the legs” after he sprayed her with pepper spray.
The Office of Citizen Complaints did not sustain the allegations, citing “insufficient evidence to prove or disprove” the allegations.
Years later, in 2012, DeJesus and other police officers entered a couple’s house in the Potrero Hill projects by force because they believed one of its residents, a Black man with a hooded sweatshirt, “possibly” had a gun.
When police asked to come inside, a female resident demanded they provide a warrant and refused to let them in, according to the woman’s complaint and police accounts.
Nevertheless, the woman wrote in her complaint that police officers pulled her out of her house while she was still in “my panties and my bra, and they rushed in.”
“Before [my boyfriend] had a chance to say who he was, the police grabbed him, swung him around the stairs, he was slammed on top of the kitchen table where there was a glass cup at, and the entire cup was broken into his chest,” the woman wrote in her complaint. “They were punching him and forcing his arms to his back.”
DeJesus wrote in his police report that he was the officer who slammed the man on the table, resulting in the man being cut. DeJesus and other officers wrote in their reports that the man was trying to evade them, was “confrontational” and “struggled” with the officers.
In the end, however, the police found no gun on the man or in the residence. They only cited the man for resisting police, and he was sent to the hospital.
The woman alleged in her complaint that the police officers “left by telling me this was just one big misunderstanding.”
Like the others, the complaint was “not sustained,” as “there was insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegations made in the complaint,” the Office of Citizen Complaints concluded.
DeJesus was also involved in three shootings, although documents indicate that he did not kill anyone.
One took place on April 21, 2010, when officers — including DeJesus — believed a car appeared suspicious and attempted to search it on Reardon Road in Bayview Hunters Point. When they approached the car, its occupants attempted to drive away. DeJesus was positioned in front of the car and fired once at the driver, believing the car was going to hit him, according to an internal affairs investigation. The vehicle got away.
It’s unclear if the suspect was injured.
The SFPD’s Firearm Discharge Review Board, a panel that decides whether a shooting is proper, concluded the shooting was “in policy.” Commissioner Petra DeJesus was a member of the board when the issue was up for review, but records show she “recused herself” from hearing or deciding on the matter.
Another shooting took place in September, 2010, in which DeJesus and other officers stopped a man for speeding. When they ordered him to exit his car, the man did not comply and the officers attempted to remove him by force, according to an internal affairs summary of the incident. That’s when the man allegedly started his engine and drove the car in DeJesus’s direction, and DeJesus shot at it once.
The driver fled the scene, but was apprehended that night.
The Firearm Discharge Review Board also deemed that shooting to be “in policy,” as department policy at that time allowed police to shoot at moving vehicles in special circumstances, such as a vehicle posing an “imminent threat of death.” DeJesus said he felt his life was in danger. In 2016, the Police Commission banned police officers from shooting at moving vehicles in all circumstances.
Commissioner DeJesus was not a member of the Firearm Discharge Review Board during the evaluation of the Sept. 30, 2020, shooting by her brother, records show.
The documents detailing DeJesus’s use-of-force history have been released in recent months at a trickle by both the Department of Police Accountability and the SFPD under a new state transparency law, SB 1421. The law allows requests for records of police use of force, dishonesty, and sexual assault. Both the SFPD and its watchdog have released few records in the latter two categories.
But DeJesus’ use-of-force records add to what is already known about his history with the SFPD.
DeJesus first appeared in the news — and was revealed as Commissioner DeJesus’s brother — in December, 2005, during the city’s so-called “Videogate” scandal. The scandal involved more than a dozen Bayview police officers who created homemade videos featuring racist, sexist and homophobic comedy skits. DeJesus purportedly participated in a skit in which he and other officers drew their guns on a man carrying a rock of cocaine.
The chief at the time, Heather Fong, suspended the officers, including DeJesus, without pay. He and other officers subsequently sued Fong and the department for imposing that discipline, alleging racial discrimination, retaliation, and deprivation of rights. But after five years, in October 2011, the lawsuit failed. Rather than the city paying officers damages, the officers ended up owing the city $32,000 for costs related to the litigation.
Three years later, in 2014, the city settled a federal civil lawsuit against Sgt. DeJesus for $210,000. Plaintiff Sean Hold alleged that DeJesus repeatedly beat him with his fists and a baton in North Beach.
During an August, 2014, Police Commission meeting in which Hold’s lawsuit was up for discussion, the commission unanimously voted to recuse Commissioner DeJesus from the matter.
It’s unclear if Hold’s case was investigated by the Department of Police Accountability, as the agency has not released files related to it.