Ajmal Amani may have been suffering a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot by two officers on Nov. 19 at the Covered Wagon Hotel in SoMa. During a virtual community meeting held Wednesday afternoon, the SFPD confirmed that Officer John Quinlan shot the gun that killed Amani, while Officer Danny De Leon Garcia shot a beanbag rifle.
Amani, 41, had been brandishing a knife the morning of Nov. 19 and engaged in heated interactions with the staff of the Covered Wagon Hotel on Folsom Street, near Fifth Street. The hotel provides transitional housing for people who have been involved with the criminal justice system or have been released from jail.
Amani had a history of mental health issues, confirmed by his case manager, who called 911 minutes after the hotel did. The case manager told the dispatcher that Amani had post-traumatic stress disorder, and may have been suffering from a psychotic episode. Amani was previously an interpreter for the U.S. government in Afghanistan.
By the time Amani’s case manager hung up, saying she was on her way to the scene, two officers from Southern Station had already arrived, according to the dispatcher in the 911 call recording.
Hotel surveillance footage, which was presented to the public on Wednesday afternoon during the town hall meeting, showed Amani walking the halls with a knife and speaking in an agitated manner with two hotel employees. The employees held up broomsticks when he approached, as if to maintain their distance. One of them called 911 for assistance.
One of the few public commenters during the community meeting, held the day before Thanksgiving but with already more than 1,500 views on Facebook as of Wednesday evening, asked if the officers might have taken a different approach had they been informed that Amani may have been having a mental health crisis.
Police Chief Bill Scott said that, regardless of the situation, officers are trained to de-escalate, keep their distance, and take time to avoid using force. He added that, “sometimes that works out with great outcomes, and sometimes the situation dictates other measures.”
When asked whether having a mental-health expert on the scene would have helped, Scott said, “We would like nothing more than that.”
Officers Quinlan and Garcia arrived at the hotel at 8:10 a.m. and asked two employees for background information before calling for backup.
After a brief interaction, when Amani came into the hallway and then hurried back out of sight, Quinlan and Garcia retreated and waited in the hallway. The officers positioned themselves in doorways down the hall from Amani’s room, which was out of sight around a corner.
From around the corner, Amani shouted at the officers to shut up and leave him alone, but also told the officers to shoot him.
Amani then rounded the corner suddenly and quickly darted down the hallway toward the officers, both of whom deployed their weapons in quick succession. It is unclear from the video which officer shot first, but in fewer than 10 seconds Amani was down. He rolled over with his head and torso out of sight.
According to department policy, an officer with a “less lethal” weapon is paired with an officer holding a gun, Commander Paul Yep said during Wednesday’s community meeting.
“The lethal cover officer is designated to protect the less-lethal officer and [to] have ready to deploy, if necessary, lethal force options,” Yep said. But in the video, it appears that both officers began shooting at practically the same time.
Yep said that Quinlan fired four rounds, and Garcia discharged the beanbag rifle three times. Amani suffered a gunshot wound in his abdomen and another near his groin, according to officers who eventually rendered aid.
After Amani was shot, he groaned and writhed on the floor. The officers screamed at him to get on the ground and show his hands, backing away. They did not immediately render aid, apparently waiting for officers who arrived less than a minute later.
But the backup officers did not approach to render aid. Instead, for the next three minutes, they searched for a tactical shield that was left behind in the car. Amani’s knife was still near him on the ground. Eventually, officers approached and took the knife, rolled a blood-soaked Amani over, and cuffed him. Only then did they begin rendering aid. Medics arrived another few minutes later.
In the minutes after the shooting, Garcia, who had the beanbag rifle, was heard sighing and taking deep breaths, while Quinlan, still holding up his gun, reassured him that everything was okay.
The police department presented the video footage and audio recordings to the public without any interpretation of whether the officers’ actions were within policy, citing an ongoing investigation. When asked why it took so long to render aid, Scott said that when weapons are involved, officers are trained to formulate a plan before approaching.
“We do not draw any conclusion as to whether the officers acted consistent with our policies and the law, until the facts are known and the investigation is complete,” Yep said.
Scott also offered his condolences to Amani’s family, “without suggesting premature judgment on the appropriateness of the force used” during the incident.
Although the officers spoke with two employees at the hotel when they arrived and throughout their interactions with Amani, no witnesses at the scene of the incident have yet been officially interviewed, Yep said.
Multiple investigations into the shooting, by the District Attorney’s office, the Department of Police Accountability, the Medical Examiner’s office, and divisions within the Police Department, are ongoing.
In some cases, the California Department of Justice conducts a criminal investigation into officer-involved shootings, but Scott said that investigators from the DOJ police shooting team determined that the incident didn’t meet the requirements for them to investigate.
An hour was set aside for community feedback and questions, but after only a handful of questions, the meeting was adjourned due to a lack of public participation.