Breonna Richard, right, at the courthouse on the second day of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel's trial for his 2019 beating of Dacari Spiers. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

On the second day of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel’s trial for beating Dacari Spiers, Spiers’ ex-fiancée denied that Spiers was ever violent toward her, and testified that, without notice, Stangel’s baton came out and he used it. 

“From my memory of what happened that night, the baton came out immediately,” Breonna Richard testified today. “We both were just screaming, like what happened? … They walked up and just went off.” 

Stangel and his partner, Officer Cuauhtémoc Martínez, were responding to an October, 2019, 911 call from witnesses who described a man choking a woman near Fisherman’s Wharf. When the officers located Spiers and Richard, police body camera footage shows the interaction between police and the couple escalating quickly, with Martínez wrestling Spiers to the ground, and Stangel hitting Spiers with a baton eight times. He was left with a broken leg and wrist. 

“He’s never put his hands on me, ever,” Richard said today of the man she dated on and off for more than a decade. She reiterated what she told police the night of the incident, by which time the two were engaged to be married: If Spiers had been violent toward her, she would have told the police herself. 

Richard, who is now 30, said that neither she nor Spiers had any idea why the police were approaching them that night. Spiers, she told the court, had been consoling her over her stolen wallet when officers arrived. 

Richard said she had hazy memories of the incident that took place more than two years ago, on Oct. 6, 2019. Attorneys questioning Richard and two other officers who testified today went into excruciating detail trying to pin down the sequence of events that night. They reviewed past interview transcripts with the witnesses, and played video footage slowly, frame by frame. 

On certain items, however, Richard was clear: She was not choked or physically abused by Spiers that night, or ever. 

To this day, Richard said, she has been unable to watch the video footage of the incident, and has tried to forget what happened that night. When prosecutor Rebecca Young today played a few seconds of camera footage showing Officer Martínez approaching Spiers and Richard in 2019, Richard closed her eyes and started crying, a scene that repeated itself during the four hours she was questioned. 

“Every time I watch it I break down … ” Richard said, adding that “anybody would want to forget that.” 

The more than two-thirds male and predominantly white jury looked on. Of the 16 jurors and alternates, 10 are white, five are Asian, and one is Latinx.

Richard testified today that, after an evening of wine-tasting and spending time with Spiers and his family members, Richard noticed that her wallet had gone missing while she was watching the filming of a music video at a nearby parking garage. Her Social Security card was in it, Richard said, and she stepped out to the street to check the car. 

Unable to find the wallet, Richard said, she called Spiers to come outside and meet her. Spiers was hugging and kissing her as she was “almost in tears,” Richard said, telling her not to “sweat it too hard.” 

Richard said she and Spiers were just talking when Officer Martínez walked up suddenly, and fast. Officer Stangel was close behind. 

In the camera footage from 2019 that was shown in court today and yesterday, Richard appears confused. Wide-eyed and panting, she says frantically to one officer, “They’re beating my boyfriend up, they just beat him with a stick. Are you serious? For what?” 

When an officer tells Richard that they received reports of a woman being choked, Richard appears shocked and adamantly denies it. 

Spiers has not been charged for this incident. Police did not present domestic violence charges to the DA, instead presenting the office of then-District Attorney Suzy Loftus with resisting arrest charges. Her office in December 2019 dismissed this charge. 

The Board of Supervisors last week postponed voting on a proposed $700,000 civil settlement with Spiers; after discussion in closed session today, the Board voted 8 to 2 to approve it.

The criminal case against Stangel is believed to be the first in which an on-duty San Francisco police officer has been charged for use of force against a civilian. Stangel faces felony charges of battery with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and assault by a public officer. 

Officer Terry Stangel, far right, at the courthouse on the first day of his trial for the 2019 beating of Dacari Spiers. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan.

The landmark case has been the subject of much fanfare in recent weeks since a hearing in late January, when a District Attorney’s office investigator said she felt pressured to withhold evidence and fail to share information with her police counterparts. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese, however, ruled that the evidence and information in question was duplicative and not vital to this case. 

Citing a violation of an agreement between the SFPD and District Attorney for the DA to serve as the lead investigator of misconduct investigations, Police Chief Bill Scott unilaterally withdrew from a memorandum of understanding on Feb. 2. Stangel’s counsel attempted to have the case thrown out over the allegations, a motion Caffese denied yesterday at the start of the trial. 

Meanwhile, District Attorney Chesa Boudin has denied any misconduct by his office, and today issued a statement addressed to Scott in which he argued that, according to the language in the 2019 version of the agreement between their offices, the District Attorney had not violated the memorandum — but the SFPD had, on multiple occasions.

The SFPD released a response, thanking Boudin for his “thoughtful and detailed position on the memorandum of understanding between their respective departments.”

Although the DA and police chief “respectfully disagree on key portions of this MOU, their respective letters should be helpful in guiding tomorrow night’s discussion at the Police Commission,” the statement read. 

After witnessing her then-fiancé Dacari Spiers beaten to the point of having his leg and wrist broken, Richard said today that she went through a difficult period in which her “really bad anxiety” got worse, she went to therapy, and her relationship with Spiers came to an end. 

“I went through a lot after that,” Richard said. “I just feel unsafe in this world, period.” If something were to happen and she needed help, Richard said she would be afraid to call on the police.    

Attorneys have finished questioning Richard and Officer Martínez, who first took the stand yesterday, and the trial is slated to continue tomorrow with Officer Joshua Cabillo. Spiers himself may also take the stand. 

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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  1. Certain things can’t be denied. The officer began hitting without hesitation or warning. He hit hard an long. There was no resistance. He broke bones. This, alone, is definitely insane.

    This officer, let us all acknowledge, would be fired and behind bars if not for the police union. Police unions are entirely unlike other unions. They are the poisonous core of the problem with American policing.