Years before San Francisco Police Officer Eric Reboli shot Amilcar Perez-Lopez five times in the back and killed him on Folsom Street in 2015, Reboli allegedly beat an unarmed man so badly at the 16th Street BART plaza that the man lost teeth and required hospitalization.
That’s according to a citizen complaint filed by the man in the fall of 2009, and released Thursday by the Department of Police Accountability. The man’s complaint that Reboli used “unnecessary force” was “not sustained” by the watchdog agency, as investigators lacked enough evidence to substantiate the claim and recommend discipline.
Before San Francisco’s body-mounted camera policy went into effect in 2015, the vast majority of excessive force claims against SFPD officers resulted in no discipline, as investigators lacked objective evidence. The number of cases the watchdog sustains has grown in recent years, although a relatively small number result in discipline.
It’s unclear if the 2009 complaint is the only unnecessary force claim against Reboli. Reboli remains with the San Francisco Police Department; in 2020, he earned a salary of more than $162,000, including overtime pay, according to city records.
On Sept. 20, 2009, Reboli was working as a plainclothes narcotics officer when he beat the 53-year-old Black man at 16th and Mission streets.
Reboli and other officers were conducting a “buy-bust” operation near the 16th Street BART station. Buy-bust operations are enforcement actions in which undercover police bait drug dealers into selling them drugs, and then immediately arrest the dealers after a transaction is completed.
The officers assisting Reboli that day included many who later appeared in the news. Officer Craig Tiffe was the officer who, with Reboli, shot and killed Amilcar Perez-Lopez in 2015. There was also Officer Antonio Cacatian, a police officer who killed himself in December 2017 amid allegations that he sexually abused children in Las Vegas. Another undercover officer was Angel Lozano, who was among the 14 officers embroiled in the 2015 racist text message scandal.
According to a police report by Reboli, Lozano made a drug exchange and signaled to Reboli, Tiffe, and Cacatian to arrest the 53-year-old man. Reboli approached and told the man to stop and show his hands. The man followed the orders, Reboli wrote, but when Reboli went to restrain the man in handcuffs, the man began “resisting.”
A tussle ensued, and Reboli wrote that he was eventually forced to perform a “leg sweep” to take the man down. The officers continued to struggle with the man, and Reboli wrote that he “utilized at least three closed fist strikes to the head and face … in an attempt to end the struggle with him.”
Soon after, Reboli wrote, he and other police were able to restrain the man. Police did not find any weapons on the man, according to his report. And in the end, the cops recovered one rock of cocaine.
The subject of the beating, however, told investigators a different story. He said that he was with a friend, and as they had exited the BART station, an unmarked police car began trailing him. All of a sudden, he said, officers swarmed him. They asked the man: “Where is it?” And when said he didn’t know, the officers responded: “You know what this is about.”
The man remembers Reboli taking him down with a leg sweep, and then Reboli and other officers punched “him in his head and face, breaking 4 teeth, 3 in the front and one left rear tooth,” according to a summary of the man’s interview with investigators.
He told investigators that he blacked out from the beating and gained consciousness only after being handcuffed, “hoisted up off the ground and thrown in the paddy wagon” — literally “thrown,” he told investigators.
“That’s when I spit out two of my teeth,” he said. “I don’t know where the other one went. And the one in the back I had pulled out here.”
He was later transported to San Francisco General Hospital.
In her report, the investigator confirmed that “Medical records document that the complainant had facial swelling and bruising as well as dental complications.”
Under former Mission Station Captain Gaetano Caltagirone, who departed to lead Richmond Station two weeks ago, Mission officers regularly conducted buy-bust operations because, as Caltagirone said during a December 2017 community meeting, “dealers are what the problem is.”