Nicole Pifari and Officer Terry Stangel leaving the courthouse on the first day of his trial for the 2019 beating of Dacari Spiers. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

The prosecution and defense in the trial of San Francisco Police Officer Terrance Stangel on Monday focused their impassioned closing arguments, in large part, on the man he repeatedly beat with a baton, Dacari Spiers.

Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Young told jurors that Stangel not only ignored his training, but also failed to recognize Spiers’ humanity by repeatedly ignoring the unarmed Black man’s questions and pleas.

Stangel’s attorney, Nicole Pifari, told jurors that Spiers was a liar and a violent man who posed a threat to Stangel’s partner when the two officers confronted him on Oct. 6, 2019.

The officers were responding to a 911 report of a domestic violence incident near Fisherman’s Wharf, but when they arrived, Spiers and his then-girlfriend, Breonna Richards were not involved in an altercation.

After three weeks of a generally quiet courtroom, supporters and spectators Monday filled the seats, murmuring assent or disapproval as Young and Pifari tried to persuade jurors. At one point, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Teresa M. Caffese admonished spectators for chuckling, and threatened to remove disruptors from the courtroom. 

‘The ones who lost control’

Prosecutor Young drew jurors’ attention to testimony and earlier statements indicating that Stangel and his partner failed to follow their police training even before getting out of the car on the night of the incident. 

Stangel “recklessly disregarded his extensive training,” Young said, arguing the officers manufactured an urgent need for force where there was none. “They’re the ones who blew up, they’re the ones who lost control.”

Young highlighted the difference in the approach by Officer Joshua Cabillo, another officer responding to the scene in 2019. After arriving at the scene, later than the other officers, Cabillo took a moment to assess the situation and gave Spiers clear directions before helping to handcuff him. 

Stangel and his partner, Cuauhtémoc Martínez, both said they felt it was unsafe for them to proceed more slowly when they approached Spiers and his then-girlfriend, even though no apparent crime was in progress when they arrived. They rushed to confront Spiers, never explained why they were there and, within seconds, were involved in a physical altercation.

Young reminded jurors that Officer Patrick Woods, who trains San Francisco police in using force, acknowledged in his initial 2019 statement that the officers had time to assess when they arrived on scene. Stangel’s attorney had called Woods to testify for the defense.

“[Spiers] is, yes, resistant. But he is never assaultive,” Young said. The police department’s  general order governing use of force (DGO 5.01) allows officers to use their batons against “an assaultive subject who is actively resisting and poses a threat to the safety of officers or others.” 

Dacari Spiers (left) came to court to watch closing statements in the trial of SFPD Officer Terrance Stangel, who beat Spiers with his police baton in 2019. Photo by Eleni Balakrishnan

Even if first strikes were justified, Young said, “nothing justifies” the five additional times Stangel struck Spiers while he was pinned to the ground, without giving any clear commands. 

Stangel has been charged with four felonies in the landmark prosecution of an on-duty San Francisco police officer for excessive force. He is charged with battery with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, and assault under color of authority. 

The 12-person jury is set to begin deliberating Tuesday morning to decide whether to convict Stangel on any or all of the charges. 

‘Awesome power’ 

Regardless of the “awesome power” police have, Young said, they must act judiciously and ensure every person their rights and freedoms. However, ​​“it’s common knowledge that tall, dark Black men are often associated with menace,” Young told jurors.

Neither Stangel nor his partner “recognized Dacari Spiers as a human being who deserved acknowledgement” or a response, Young said. 

Young also showed video of Spiers’ then-girlfriend Breonna Richard yanking her arm away from Officer Gonee Sepulveda, who also responded to the scene, in a manner similar to what Spiers did when Stangel and Martínez first confronted him. Young pointed out that Sepulveda did not react with force, and Richard was allowed to maintain her bodily autonomy; something Stangel and Martinez did not allow Spiers to do. 

Young noted that officers also did not acknowledge Richard or her questions, although she was the alleged victim they were there to help. 

The defense has framed the officers’ lack of response as “auditory exclusion,” owing to the high-stress interaction, saying they simply did not hear Spiers and Richard’s repeated questions. 

Those questions are audible on video from both officers’ body-worn cameras, which has been played throughout the trial. Young suggested today that the officers’ hearing was “selective.”    

‘Cut to the chase’ 

Defense attorney Pifari attempted to debunk the prosecution’s case against Stangel, in part by undermining its witnesses. Pifari called expert witness Roger Clark, a former lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a “hack.” She told the jury that Spiers, Richard, and the prosecutors were dishonest. 

“Let’s just cut to the chase: You cannot believe anything they told you,” Pifari said, referring to Spiers and Richard, who she accused of lying on the witness stand. She denied the prosecution’s claim that she was using Spiers’ previous encounters with law enforcement to justify the beating, and insisted that those encounters had no bearing on the case. Nonetheless, she referenced these incidents repeatedly.

In Pifari’s view, Spiers “has little to no control over his emotions,” and was acting in a rage when officers crossed paths with him. By contrast, Pifari said, Stangel is being prosecuted “for being a human being” faced with a “chaotic situation” created by Spiers.  

Throughout the trial, the defense has maintained that Stangel, who was several steps behind Martínez when the officers arrived on scene, saw his partner in danger, “getting battered” by Spiers, and acted first to protect Martínez and then to overcome Spiers’ resistance. This case wasn’t like other sickening police brutality cases, Pifari said. 

Pifari then reminded the jury of its legal obligation to be convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” of Stangel’s guilt, and encouraged jurors to give Stangel the benefit of the doubt.  

“Terry Stangel is not guilty of any crime,” Pifari said as she finished her arguments. “He did not intend to cause Dacari serious bodily harm, okay, he didn’t mean to do that.”

Stangel could serve up to seven years in prison, if convicted on all counts. 

$
$
$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Follow Us

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.

Join the Conversation

5 Comments

Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Why does the author continuously use the words “beating” when talking about the officer’s use of force?? Officer’s don’t “beat” people when using force legally. Officers use strikes and properly applied restraint techniques. The author is clearly condemning a man and calling him guilty before a verdict has been reached. Nice impartial reporting! That is how the media brain washes YOU the reader. Subconsciously you are being told the officer “beat” the suspect therefore he must be guilty.

  2. h, you are one great writer – your comments are a treasure as well as the Mission Local coverage of this trial. I was there only one afternoon – wish I could have figured out who you were and shaken your hand.

  3. Eleni,

    Also, you caught a picture of a guy I always call the ‘Ghost Juror’ on the far right of your photo of Spiers.

    Real big guy named, ‘Lyle’ who doesn’t want to be noticed but is at every minute of every important trial I’ve been at over the last decade or so that I’ve developed the addiction in my retirement.

    Every minute of the 5 week Steinle/Zarate trial.

    He got mad at me at this trial because last week I made a comment about thinking the cops actually did have a plan going in and the plan was for Martinez to grab aholt of whatever big black guy w/dreads they came across and Stangel to hammer him.

    Lyle said I shouldn’t have said that because he was trying to keep an open mind and think and hear just what the jurors did and he didn’t watch about or read about the case like the jurors and I’d screwed that up.

    Anyway, anyone fuck up for the Bulldog but you actually got a shot of Lyle and every single person who works at the Hall of Justice knows him on sight.

    h.

  4. Eleni,

    You and Nick totally rock.

    Nick is Nicholas Iovino who covers cases like this for Courthouse News and sits in seat one in the audience, front row inner aisle right behind attorneys and defendant with his computer on his lap hammering away while the freakin’ bullfight rages before him.

    How’s that imagery?

    I don’t have the energy or sized bladder of you youngsters so I generally only catch the first hour of trials these days.

    That’s been enuff to get the flavor of the thing which is what I cherish as memories.

    You and Nick can give the details.

    I looked at Spiers when he entered the court and nearly got a standing ovation cause he has a zero buzz now just like mine (no mean black man long dreads anymore) and a hundred dollar Paris blue dress shirt and three hundred buck ski jacket of blue and yellow which matches the flag of Eukraine and I doubt he thought of it but I’m betting jurors noticed it and some smart lawyer picked it out?

    So, most importantly, you never saw a happier guy!

    Really, he was mobbed in the hallway and seemed totally straight and sober.

    All that for just 700k?

    Well worth it.

    I’m reminded of the story an old ATF buddy of mine (president of our high school class – Dave True, decorated by Nixon for his undercover work) … told the FBI nip quote of questioning a bank teller who’d been robbed 3 times by the same guy:

    “Did you notice any difference about him each time?”

    Answer:

    “Well, he was better dressed everytime.”

    So is Spiers and he should be.

    I was surrounded by thug looking cops in my close as I can get to Wild Bill Hicock’s seat in the gallery (all the way in the corner so no one can sneak up on you) …

    Within half hour the gates were opened and the whiff of performance enhancing drugs filled the room.

    If we’d have drug tested that entire crowd?

    I’d win going away with 11 in my bloodstream daily (some 3 or 4 times) to keep me upright and pain free.

    I always say, I can’t tie my shoes but I can walk 4 miles up hills to Campos’ headquarters carrying a, ‘Save Chesa’ sign.

    There, my ads are done.

    I make the jury history making and a guilty on all counts verdict before friday night.

    Go Giants!

    h.